Korean words for the pandemic

What can I say that hasn’t already been said? It is April 2020, and we are in the midst of a global pandemic.

I’d been paying attention to the virus since December, mostly out of an academic interest (in a former life, I was a graduate researcher in the field of immunology), but I still didn’t worry about Covid-19 as much as I did seasonal influenza.

When the virus hit Seoul in full force, I checked in with my friends in Korea and started to keep an eye on the news, but my life in California continued uninterrupted. I’d started the new decade with surprising momentum. I was in an essay writing workshop, honing my own narrative voice with the help of some incredible peers. At my day job, I was in the process of transitioning to a new team and was, for the first time, excited about the possibility of a real, long-term career in tech. Even more excitingly, I was hired as a part-time translator at a major webtoon portal and had just been contracted my first work.

In the part of California where I live, the first case of community-transmitted Covid-19 was discovered the last week of February. Right around then, an unrelated family emergency took my parents to India and brought my younger sister to live with me and my husband.

Less than three weeks later, several Bay Area counties, including mine, were ordered to shelter in place. While my parents were stuck in India indefinitely due to a country-wide lockdown, my workplace transitioned to being fully remote; and the team I was so excited about joining unexpectedly dissolved.

This is petty in the grand scheme of what’s happening in the world right now, but it feels so unfair. It feels so unfair that I was finally starting to get up after being so emotionally pummeled in 2019, and then this happens.


Apart from Animal Crossing, Korean has been one of my few sources of consistency and stability during this time.

For the webtoons I translate (I’m now contracted for two titles), I have weekly deadlines I need to meet, which means I have to manage my time.

I still have weekly classes with my Korean teacher over video chat. The topics we cover range from adult learning theory, to socio-linguistics, to ethnocentrism. Every class, we have about 20 minutes of casual conversation, usually about our personal lives or current events. I usually think of topics or things I want to share ahead of time and review relevant vocabulary (for example, when I described recovering from bronchitis earlier this year, I taught myself fun words like 천식 and 가래 — I still have significant gaps in non-humanities-related vocabulary.)

For better or worse, I started consuming a lot of news in Korean this year; a lot of my conversations with my teacher were about how Korea is managing Covid-19 compared to the U.S. and about this strange new normal we’re all adjusting to.

I started collecting more and more notes on pandemic-related vocabulary and figured I could share them here (plus a few other ones I thought would be useful). This isn’t a comprehensive list by any means, but you may encounter many of these words while reading news articles in Korean. What other words would you add?

Some Korean words and phrases for the pandemic

  • 확진자: a person who tested positive for a disease
  • 완치자: recovered patients
  • 사망자: deceased patients
  • 고위험군: high-risk group
  • 슈퍼전파자: super-spreader
  • 방역: quarantine
  • 자가격리: self-quarantine
  • 자가 격리 이탈자: A person who is not self-quarantining
  • 격리해제: release from quarantine
  • 사재기: panic-buying; hoarding
  • 공금현황: current state of supply
  • 손 소독제: hand sanitizer
  • 재택근무: work from home
  • 위기: crisis, emergency
  • 지원금을 지급하다: to pay financial assistance
  • 긴급 재난 지원금: emergency disaster relief fund
  • 사화적 거리두기: social distancing
  • 사회적 거리두기 실천하다: to practice social distancing
  • 감염증: infectious disease
  • 전파: spread, propagation
  • 백신 주사: vaccination
  • 치료제 개발하다: to develop a cure
  • 진단검사: diagnostic test
  • 진단키트: testing kit
  • 의료진: medical team
  • 의료보험: medical insurance
  • 예방행동수칙: preventative measures
  • 접촉: contact
  • 호흡기 증상: respiratory symptoms

How are you doing with everything otherwise? These are strange, lonely times. I’m always happy to lend an ear.

Photo by JEONGUK – on Unsplash


  1. says:

    Our strange new normal, indeed. I still wonder when this will all completely go away, or if we’re bound to spend the rest of 2020 like this.

    Also, great list of vocab! I’ve been chatting with my Korean friends, especially when I was at the height of being sick, about similar topics and why the US healthcare system is a mess. Wish I’d seen this list of words beforehand lmao–I had to keep looking up terminologies to communicate with them how I’ve been, and it’s been a pain (but also a very interesting learning time).

    Anyway, it’s always, always a welcome treat to read one of your entries, Archana. ☺️ Keep ’em coming.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Archana says:

      Kat! I’m so glad you’re recovering from being so sick. I was so worried about you!

      Yeah, it’s really been enlightening reading Korean news, and not just from a language perspective. *side-eyes the U.S. government*


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