Words, dictionaries and sociology

The impact of coroneologisms


  • Lan Li The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shenzhen




pandemic, neologisms, word-formation, semantic web, impact


The COVID-19 pandemic has lasted for more than one year with a devastating effect on the whole world. This paper illustrates word-formation approaches and semantic webs of COVID-19 vocabulary that is said to number more than 1000 new words; it also discusses significant events that created ‘coroneologisms’. In this connection, the paper takes a corpus-based approach towards content analysis and semantic relationship networks by studying the massive data associated with the pandemic: news reports, government documents, international policies, science papers, social media posts and others. Three online mega-corpora and self-collected data were analysed from the lexicological perspective, including affixation, compounding, blending, acronyms, and word meanings associated with common words. The paper also reifies the efforts of lexicographers, especially those of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), in recording this unprecedented catastrophe in human history. In using the semantic web, aspects of language are shown to have developed during this period. The broader purpose is to ascertain how language, as a social enterprise, has changed in tandem with empirically ascertainable social, political and scientific changes during the pandemic. The underlying belief advanced here is that the more in-depth study we conduct into COVID-19 (related) vocabulary, the more we can understand the pandemic and document its history.

Author Biography

Lan Li, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shenzhen

Lan Li holds MPhil and PhD degrees in Applied Linguistics from the University of Exeter, UK. She worked at Hong Kong Polytechnic University for many years before joining the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shenzhen as an Associate Professor. Her research interests and publications cover lexicology, lexicography, metaphor study, professional communication and corpus linguistics.


Cambridge Words. (2020). Cambridge Dictionary’s Word of the Year 2020. Retrieved from https://dictionaryblog.cambridge.org/2020/11/24/cambridge-dictionarys-word-of-the-year-2020/

Dunham, J. (2020). ‘Coronadodge,’ ‘isobar,’ and ‘zumped’: Linguist catalogues more than 1K words from pandemic. CTVNews. Retrieved from https://www.ctvnews.ca/health/coronavirus/coronadodge-isobar-and-zumped-linguist-catalogues-more-than-1k-words-from-pandemic-1.4908434

Fillmore, C. (1977). The case for case reopened. In Cole, P. and Sadock, J. (eds.) Syntax and semantics Volume 8: Grammatical relations (pp.59–81). New York: Academic Press.

Iqbal, M. (2021). Zoom revenue and usage statistics (2020). Retrieved from https://www.businessofapps.com/data/zoom-statistics/

Metcalf, A. (2002). Predicting New Words: the secret of their success. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Oxford Languages. (2020). Words of an unprecedented year. Retrieved from https://languages.oup.com/word-of-the-year/2020/.

Roig-Marín, A. (2020). English-based coroneologisms. English Today, 36(4), 1–3. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0266078420000255

Schmitt, N., & McCarthy, M. (1997). Vocabulary: Description, acquisition and pedagogy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Sinclair, J. (2003). Reading concordances: An introduction. Harlow: Pearson/Longman.

Tognini-Bonelli, E. (2001). Corpus linguistics at work. Amsterdam; Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Zizek, S. (2020). Pandemic! COVID-19 shakes the world. New York; London: OR Books.

World Health Organization. (2020). Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019

World Health Organization. (2021a). Looking back at a year that changed the world: WHO’S response to COVID-19. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/news-room/spotlight/a-year-without-precedent-who-s-covid-19-response/

World Health Organization. (2021b). COVID-19 Vaccination financing and budgeting Q&A. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/news/item/27-04-2021-covid-19-vaccination-financing-and-budgeting-q-a


Cambridge Dictionary. https://dictionary.cambridge.org/

Collins Dictionary. https://www.collinsdictionary.com/

Dictionary.com. https://www.dictionary.com/

Macmillan Dictionary. https://www.macmillandictionary.com/

Merriam-Webster Dictionary. https://www.merriam-webster.com/

Oxford English Dictionary (OED). https://www.oed.com/


Brigham Young University. Coronavirus Corpus. https://www.english-corpora.org/corona/

Dow Jones. Factiva. https://professional.dowjones.com/factiva/

FrameNet. https://framenet.icsi.berkeley.edu/fndrupal.

Sketch Engine. COVID-19 Corpus. https://app.sketchengine.eu/#dashboard?corpname=preloaded%2Fcovid19

Web Corp. https://www.webcorp.org.uk/live/



How to Cite

Li, L. (2021). Words, dictionaries and sociology: The impact of coroneologisms. Lexicography, 8(1), 80–104. https://doi.org/10.1558/lexi.19959