There is hardly any aspect of life that has not been impacted by COVID-19, and Ágnes Veszelszki’s new dictionary Karanténszótár is proof that the pandemic has also brought hundreds of new words into the Hungarian language.

Language is constantly evolving. This is especially true of words we use to describe the world around us, as it is very likely that we will find ourselves in situations we have never experienced before — which also brings the need to invent new words to describe these new situations.

But no phenomenon before has had such a huge impact on our vocabulary as the current COVID-19 pandemic. And there is no better proof than the fact that a dictionary containing all the COVID-related Hungarian terms has been just published in the country.

According to, the book Karanténszótár (which translates as quarantine dictionary), edited by Hungarian linguist Ágnes Veszelszki, has a whopping number of 400 entries, describing words that sprang up in the Hungarian language between January and June 2020.

Veszelszki is an associate professor and head of the department of the Institute of Communication and Media Science at the Corvinus University of Budapest. As for the reasons behind this unprecedented increase in vocabulary, she explains that:

“The pandemic, the quarantine and the fact that our lives have remarkably slowed down or come to a complete halt put us in new situations we had absolutely no words for. It is these new extralinguistic phenomena that could explain such an increase in word creation.”

The translation of such a dictionary could be another exciting linguistic challenge, but — luckily for us — several expressions derive from words in the English language. For example, “covidinka” is equivalent to the English phrase covidiot, which is a blend of the words COVID and idiot. (Interestingly but maybe not so relevantly, the former is also very similar to another Hungarian word, kövidinka, which is a type of Hungarian wine grape.) The expression “home ovi” is a blend of the well-known home office and the word ovi, an informal Hungarian word for nursery school.

Many words are similar to English not only in form but also in meaning, as phenomena such as panic buying, toilet paper crime (“vécépapír-bűnözés”), or unqualified people spreading false information on social media (“fotelvirológus”, literally armchair virologist) are not only present in Hungary.

Some other expressions, on the other hand, are more Hungary-specific and reflect, for example, on the official government communication. Most residents in Hungary should be familiar with Pál Győrfi by now, who is the speaker of the Hungarian National Ambulance Service — his “maradj otthon” message (meaning stay at home) has been a constant feature of TV programmes and video sharing platforms in the country. The related COVID adjective, “elgyőrfipalisodott” (literally fallen under the influence of Pál Győrfi) refers to a person in panic who keeps telling other people to stay at home. For further Hungarian expressions that turned up during the current pandemic, click here.

Ágnes Veszelszki’s work is a proper dictionary in which entries are followed by a short definition which, if it contains another COVID-related expression, has a reference to other relevant entries. The Karanténszótár was published by Interkulturális Kutatások Kft in Budapest.


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