COVID: Etymologies of the Word That Changed Everything

Photo by Donald Giannatti
  covid: n. ~ co (corona) vi (virus) d (disease)

Abbreviated name of the novel corona virus 2019. A nonword/word spreading virally, a word used in an attempt to understand, in a shared half-understanding, a word that looms above any shared meaning. Virus, scourge, a respiratory issue mild in most cases. A dry cough, a shortness of breath. Or death. A blood heart kidney lung clot stroke attack damage of unknown proportions. An invisible thing-being, alive/not-alive, so powerful it can freeze vast cities, upend entire economies, make Republican administrations give money to poor people, keep grandmothers from hugging grandbabies. Under close examination, shaped like a crown.


covid: adj. ~ co- (L. with, together, in association) vid (video abbr.)

Together through video and only through video. Video book club, video preschool, video choir, video sex. Video hair cut, video birthday, video funeral, video walk. Four bored kids staying late after video school to play hangman on a digital whiteboard. Video wedding. Email divorce. 



covid: n. ~ cove (ME a recessed place) –id (L. body or particle)

A body from a recessed place, a body alone, a body—or are we just particles, recessed in our houses? Is a human a human if no one can hug them?



covid: adj. ~ co- (L. with, together, in association) vid (dir. Spanish vida, life)

Living with people, the people we live with, the ones who use up the toilet paper, who complain about our dishes but leave ketchup fingerprints on the refrigerator, who talk too loud on Zoom. We used to simply share a sink but now we stare down days with them.

These people may be other people. They may also be ourselves.



covid: adj. ~ co (company abbr.) vid (L. see)

In the interest of public health, in the lack of healthy public interest, the companies can see us, track us, tell us when we’ve seen someone whose breath might kill us, help us (they tell us) be OK (is this OK?). We gave our privacy away already anyway for words like cheap, like now, like easy.



covid: n. ~ cov (covert abbr.) id (L. it)

The id, the lovely covert id, unconscious aspect, instinct, need, the power of the hidden and unseen. (How much these days we go unseen.) Our horny lonely late night selves. Strange quaran-dreams. Our surging fury at unmasked neighbors holding barbeques, our scorn for the man buying lemons in a hazmat suit. What leaps in our blood when a drop of rain taps a lonely, open lip.



covid: trans. v. ~ var. of coved [v.] in its two-syllable Shakespearean form

Hollowed, hallowed, caved and carved by loneliness by fear by grief by love by loss by love by love by the emptiness of busyness the vast and feral rooms inside. The green insistent thrumming leafing earth.



covid: n. ~ co- (L. mutually) vid (L. seeing)

We begin to see each other, our mutuality, equality—we see we are a we—we see the inequity, the injustice, the fragility. The sequestered lucky, the sacrificed essential. All suddenly more visible to those of us who imagined we were solo, separate, clean-handed, uninvolved.



covid: n. ~ CO (cardiac output abbr.) vid (L. see)

We see how big our hearts can be. How much love, grief, generosity, and courage they hold and how much rightful rage. How loudly they beat out of the stillness. How much they can do with each breath.



covid: n. ~ CO (conscientious objector abbr.) vid (var. of veered sudden change of direction)

No longer participating in what we see that goes against our consciences, we stop. The air clears, planes ground, oil becomes at least briefly unprofitable, neighbors wave, children on bicycles circle in the street all day like flies. A pause. A crunching halt. A thought. Perhaps inertia does not have to slide us off the cliff. Perhaps injustice does not have to just roll on. We get off the bus. Stand around. Shake out our legs. Survey the unstained horizon. Decide: get back on, or start to walk. We walk. Please tell me we walk.


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Becca Rose Hall lives near Seattle with her daughter and directs Frog Hollow School, a writing program for children. She was the Lighthouse Writers 2019 Emerging Fiction Fellow and recently finished a novel. Read Hall’s Lay of the Land, “Brilliant Forests, Burning,” in our Summer 2020 issue here