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New COVID-19 Definitions Added to the Oxford English Dictionary

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Jenkins members have remote online access to the Oxford English Dictionary, one of the most recognized dictionaries in the world. Containing over 600,000 words, the OED provides both current and historical definitions of words and phrases.

Though typically updated on a quarterly basis, the OED recognized the "extraordinary times" we are currently living in and how quickly new words and definitions have appeared in the popular lexicon. Due to the increased use of new words and meanings, the OED lexicographers added 21 definitions related to the COVID-19 pandemic outside of the OED's typical updating schedule. In Social Change and Linguistic Change: The Language of COVID-19, Bernadette Paton, Executive Editor: New Words, OED Management, explained "As the spread of the disease has altered the lives of billions of people, it has correspondingly ushered in a new vocabulary to the general populace encompassing specialist terms from the fields of epidemiology and medicine, new acronyms, and words to express the societal imperatives of imposed isolation and distancing. It is a consistent theme of lexicography that great social change brings great linguistic change, and that has never been truer than in this current global crisis."

This update includes the new word entries COVID-19, self-isolate, and social distancing, a new sub-entry for to flatten the curve, and updated sub-entries for PPE, personal protective equipment, and social recession. For a full list of recently added definitions, check out the New Words List April 2020.

For more information on the history of the OED, check out our prior blog posts: Understanding the Editions of the Oxford English Dictionary Part 1 and Part 2.

Need help finding a definition? Ask Us! Due to the current pandemic, our reference staff is working remotely with reduced hours. You can reach us by emailing research@jenkinslaw.org or by leaving a voicemail at 215-574-1505. We will be monitoring these during our reduced hours, Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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