8 Pandemic Words & Phrases People Absolutely Never Want To Hear Again

When surprising, shocking, or scary things like the COVID-19 pandemic happen, it’s sometimes difficult to find the words to talk about it. You may find yourself straining to remember terms you learned a long time ago, or repeating the same words and phrases over and over again because you just don’t know what else to say. While the world is quarantined due to the novel coronavirus, it seems like we’re all struggling with this problem.

Day after day, the same handful of phrases clog our social media feeds and rise to the top of our trending tickers. Like a lot of things that are happening during this time, hearing and reading the same words in the media, at home, and online can start to feel frustrating and tiresome.

So that’s why we used our Twitter to ask people to share the overused words and phrases they are utterly sick of hearing, and our fans did not hold back.

From social distancing to speaking moistly (shudder), here are the tiresome terms that topped the list—plus some help from to give you other ways to say them (if you really must).

New normal

The phrase new normal is an oxymoron typically used to indicate a life event that is out of the ordinary and has a long-lasting or permanent impact on someone’s day-to-day routine. For instance, a couple who just had their first baby might tell friends and family they’re adjusting to their new normal.

But using the phrase to describe efforts to fight a global pandemic implies a sense of permanence that makes a lot of people uncomfortable. This may be one time when it’s better to challenge ourselves to find a new phrase, rather than relying on one we already know. If you check for synonyms for new and normal, you come up with: strange routine, unusual standard, and unfamiliar order.

Those all seem to better capture the inherent strangeness of this time.

Social distancing

It’s incredible how quickly social distancing went from being a phrase few people had ever heard to one that’s repeated all over social media, on the news, and in private conversations multiple times a day. It’s ubiquitous, and it’s started to get on a lot of people’s nerves, either because they’re sick of hearing the same instructions over and over again or because the phrase itself invokes a sense of loneliness and isolation.

Social distancing is a part of the recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), so the phrase likely isn’t going anywhere. But synonyms for this one can at least help us look at it in a different way.

There’s civil separation, which calls to mind Gwyneth Paltrow’s conscious uncoupling, and makes this all sound very mindful and new age. There’s also communal expansion, collective absence, and sociable extension, which all remind us we’re in this together, and we’re making these sacrifices in the name of being good neighbors and citizens.


It’s the word on everyone’s lips. They aren’t wrong; this is an unprecedented situation. But perhaps every leader, news outlet, commercial, and celebrity doesn’t need to use that word quite so often.

After all, unprecedented has over 30 synonyms. Instead of pulling this one out of vocabulary storage, try: bizarreunparalleledextraordinarynovelunheard of, or singular.


“We’re living in uncertain times.” “We’re uncertain of the outcomes.” You aren’t alone if you’re feeling uncertain, and you aren’t alone if you’d rather not hear that word ever again.

Like unprecedented, the word uncertain has dozens of synonyms (43, to be exact), but for some reason we all keep going back to the same word. Maybe we’re clinging to what we know in times of, well, uncertainty. Or maybe we’ve simply forgotten about some of the other options: ambiguous, dubious, erratic, precarious, questionable, speculative, and inconstant.

Trying times

The repeated utterance of the phrase trying times is starting to try people’s patience.

Trying is a catchall term for difficult things that test our resilience, but in this complex and emotional time, it seems like people might be craving more specific language. What we describe as trying can also be described as arduousdemandingstressfulwearisometaxingvexing, and just plain hard. These so-called trying times are a hard moment, vexing interval, and an arduous stage. It’s OK to say that.

Speaking moistly

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was recently trending in a bad way for coining a phrase that horrified pretty much anyone who heard it. In a PSA about the importance of wearing masks to prevent the spread of illness, Trudeau said the use of masks can prevent people from “breathing or speaking moistly.”

He immediately regretted the turn of phrase, and said, “Ugh, what a terrible image.” We agree, Prime Minister, as did the many people who told us this was the phrase they most wanted to stop hearing.

Unfortunately, most of the synonyms for moist are equally horrifying: damp, soggy, drippy, clammy, drizzly, oozy. We’ll take a page from the CDC and say that cloth face coverings are worn to “prevent the spread of virus from the wearer to others.” No moist adjectives necessary.

Toilet paper shortage

This may be one instance where people are more tired of the occurrence than of the actual words used to describe it. Nonetheless, a number of people told us that toilet paper shortage is the number one most-hated phrase on their list.

We can’t supply you with extra TP, but we can tell you that a toilet paper shortage can also be called a toilet roll deficit, a TP shortfall, and a toilet tissue scarcity. Or maybe we go with a phrase that’s just begging for a hashtag: #TPFail.


Essential workers, like healthcare workers, grocery store employees, sanitation workers, first responders,  transportation workers, and many others are out on the front lines during this pandemic, yet the word essential has still become a point of contention for many people. Why are we so sick of it?

Perhaps because it lacks specificity. In many instances, the word essential doesn’t seem to capture the importance of these roles in the same way as synonyms like crucial, indispensable, and necessary. It also leaves out an important element: Another word for essential is required. Many workers are doing risky jobs out of necessity because the ability to social distance is a luxury afforded to those who have the means, a roof over their heads, and flexible work. Essential is not always the clearest way to say that.

If you can’t get enough and want to see the newest 5 words and phrases people can’t stand, click here to read more from our users.

Previous's Words To Inspire You For Earth Day Next Adds Coronavirus Words To The Dictionary