Toilet Paper Hamster, ERCOT-Palypse: A Look At The Words Born Out Of A Pandemic

One linguist says new words surface to describe a moment, and often disappear afterward.

By Michael Marks & Caroline CovingtonMarch 29, 2021 2:23 pm, , ,

The pandemic has been a time ripe with new words to describe the strangeness and trauma billions of people have experienced over the past year.

Linguist Lars Hinrichs says these words are created spontaneously and help capture the moment more succinctly. Hinrichs is director of the Texas English Project at the University of Texas at Austin.

English-speakers have come up with clever terms like “covidiot” and “quarantini” – words Hinrichs says are “blends.”

German-speakers, on the other hand, are masters at using compound words to describe pandemic life. Compound words bring multiple words together, without spaces. Hinrichs, a native German speaker, says he was tickled by words like klopapierhamstern, or “toilet paper hamster,” and maskenpickel, or “mask pimple.”

In German that would automatically then be spelled without a space between those words, whereas a less complicated language like English leaves a wide space between those words,” Hinrichs said. “And only when something has been around for a few hundred years does English drop the white space in the spelling.”

Two pandemic-related words were born in Texas. They came out of the combined calamity of COVID-19 and the February winter storm and statewide power outage: “snowvid21” and “ERCOT-palypse.”

Hinrichs says new words are created every day, but they usually don’t last. Only a few stick around if there’s a “continued need,” he said.

In this case, Hinrichs says he hopes these words soon become a thing of the past.

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