What’s the difference between pandemic and epidemic? – ChicagoNow

Posted: March 31, 2020 at 6:15 am

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As a word maven, I am enjoying something during all the stories about the novel Coronavirus pandemic. I am enjoying the use of the specific, but previously rare, word "pandemic" itself.

On the other hand, I'm reluctant to write that we're "in the middle of" a pandemic -- not because I'm worried about the word pandemic, but I'm worried about "in the middle." It always reminds me of my mother, who did a lot of sewing. When she needed to cut two things from a piece of fabric, she wanted to find the middle. To do that, she would hold one end of the fabric. I would hold the other and bring it up to her hands. Then we knew where the middle was, the same distance from both ends. Without knowing the end, how can you say we're in the middle? (I get the same way about "middle age.")

But at least I'm hearing the word pandemic, not just epidemic. My old faithful dictionary, Webster's New Twentieth Century, second edition, calls pandemic "a type of epidemic that affects large numbers, whole communities, or the majority of a place at the same time." Epidemic is "a disease prevalent in a locality, an epidemic disease; also, the rapid spreading of such a disease."

The prefix pan- is defined on Dictionary.com as "a combining form meaning all, occurring originally in loanwords from Greek (panacea; panoply), but now used freely as a general formative (panleukopenia; panorama; pantelegraph; pantheism; pantonality), and especially in terms, formed at will, implying the union of all branches of a group (Pan-Christian; Panhellenic; Pan-Slavism)."

So a pandemic is an epidemic affecting us all, or the majority of a place.

The majority of a planet, perhaps?

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What's the difference between pandemic and epidemic? - ChicagoNow

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