The Best Thing This Week

The Best Thing That Happened This Week: So At Least the English Language Isn’t Self-Isolating

Come give us a hug, you big zedonk, you.


Merriam-Webster’s annual dictionary additions include quite a bit of coronavirus vocabulary. Illustration by Brooks Robinson

Just when it seems like nobody is going anywhere or doing anything ever again, along comes Merriam-Webster to save us, with an announcement on Wednesday that the mighty word maven is adding a whopping 535 new terms to its dictionary. Granted, not all these new words are full of sunshine and roses; a number of them have become familiar thanks to the pandemic, including epidemic curve,  forehead thermometerPPE and physical distancing. There’s also a handy triplet of “fears associated with treatments and medical facilities,” as M-W puts it: iatrophobia, or an intense fear of doctors; nosocomephobia, or an intense fear of hospitals; and tomophobia, an intense fear of surgery. Well, really, who doesn’t have that?

But there are also new words that have nothing to do with the coronavirus — or at least, we hope not. These include microtarget, or the practice of aiming advertisements and political messages at little slices of folks based on info gleaned from their internet habits; deepfake, an image altered or manipulated to misrepresent someone’s speech or actions; and the delightfully retro stovepipe, meaning to filter information to a higher level in an organization via a narrow, isolated channel of communication. You know, on second thought, maybe these do have to do with COVID-19 after all.

Still, there’s also zedonk and zonkey, either of which can be used to refer to what happens when a zebra fools around with an ass.

Speaking of which, with all this wealth of wonderful new words, you’d think the stable genius in the White House would be putting his enforced self-isolation to use enriching his shriveled little vocabulary bigly. By now, it could be yuge, especially if he took advantage of Melania’s helpful “Be Best” word puzzles aimed at homebound kids. Uh-oh, too late! Opportunity lost. The golf courses are opening again.