New words and phrases for a new challenge


By Joe Diorio

Maureen Boyle, a longtime friend, college classmate, and author of the wonderful book, “Shallow Graves: The Hunt for the New Bedford Highway Serial Killer,” reports she’s discovered the word “foofaraw” and promptly posts to her social media followers that she plans to use it every day. “You have been warned,” she writes.

“Foofaraw” means a great deal of fuss given to a minor matter. Seems appropriate for a fellow wordsmith. Speaking of fuss given to seemingly minor matters, more than a few terms about the pandemic randomly used by the proletariat have come across my desk of late. Let’s delve, shall we?

A Diagnostic test is the one with the swab that goes up your nose – far enough up that you think the back of your brain is being scratched (but I digress) – and determines whether you have COVID-19. And, yes, COVID-19 should always be all uppercase because it is an abbreviation for CoronaVirusDisease 2019.

An Antibody test is the one with the blood sample to determine whether you already had COVID-19.

Ticking up or down? A reporter for a local television station, talking about the rate of positive COVID-19 tests said, “the uptick is going down.” Reporting in a pandemic does nasty stuff to good grammar practices.

Shift happens. Speaking of good grammar (or the lack thereof) the April 21 edition of The Tennessean carries a story about how Lego would start making face masks rather than plastic toy bricks. Number one: the headline said that Lego would “s__t gears” to do this. Number two: that redacted word is not “shift.” (See what I did there?)

Covidiots. I first heard this whilst watching a daytime television talk show. (Hey, there are only 52 episodes of Downton Abbey* available to stream, so gimme a break on my TV watching.) The Urban Dictionary defines a covidiot as someone who ignores the warnings of public safety, or who hoards goods … yes, like toilet paper.

Mind your gerunds. A political commentator – it doesn’t matter if the person leans red or blue – recently tweeted, “It’s time to start the reopen of America.” This individual used an infinitive (“to” plus a base verb “reopen”) when a gerund was required (verb plus “ing”). Using “reopen” would work had the pundit said, “It’s time to reopen America.” But they didn’t. So there.

House arrest? The same pundit said most of America was “under house arrest” due to social distancing. Merriam-Webster defines house arrest as being held in one’s house against their will, with a guard outside making sure no one leaves. I am staying home because, as I have said, I’m angry at this virus and want to flatten the curve. But there’s no guard outside my house. Just my neighbor’s cat, “Bingo,” who thinks he owns the street and takes umbrage with anyone who walks by. Like most people, I come and go as I please. But given the prevalence of COVID-19, I am pleased not to come and go.

English equivalent? There is a German term, kummerspeck, which translates to excess weight gained from emotional overeating. There isn’t an English equivalent, but I kind of like “grief-bacon,” signifying all the trips we’re making to the refrigerator, as an English version.

Of course, the pandemic has introduced a plethora of new terms: Zoom, N95 mask, curbside pickup/drop off, safe at home, virtual doctor visits, super spreader, flattening the curve, and more. Message me if you have more suggestions; I’d love to hear them.

Latin comes in handy sometimes. The pastor at my church – I catch his sermons via YouTube nowadays – used the term “liminal space” in a recent sermon. Liminal comes from the Latin word “limen” and means a threshold or the space between what was and what’s next. We certainly are in a liminal space as we wait out the pandemic.

Let’s write carefully out there, people.


* Which I have never watched. Sue me.


Joe Diorio is a writer living in Nashville, Tennessee.

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