Unprecedented…

Unprecedented” must be the most over-used word in the English language right now. I’m tired of it. Especially because it’s used so often without thought.

Unprecedented means never done or known before; never having happened or existed in the past. True, the specific COVID variation of the coronavirus is new (hence the name novel coronavirus). But If we’re talking about pandemics, there’s nothing new there. Humans have experienced them throughout recorded history.

MPH Online is an independent online resource for public health students. In 10 of the Worst Pandemics in History, they say…

Scientists and medical researchers for years have differed over the exact definition of a pandemic (is it a pandemic, or an epidemic), but one thing everyone agrees on is that the word describes the widespread occurrence of disease, in excess of what might normally be expected in a geographical region.

Cholera, bubonic plague, smallpox, and influenza are some of the most brutal killers in human history. And outbreaks of these diseases across international borders are properly defined as pandemic, especially smallpox, which, throughout history, has killed between 300-500 million people in its 12,000 year existence.

It’s hard to get a sense of the relative magnitude of these diseases over the past 2,000 years. Here’s the best thing I found to give some perspective. Click on the image below to see the full pandemic timeline right up to COVID-19…

History of Pandemics

To bring this closer to home, here’s a photo of my maternal grandmother, who was born at the beginning of the twentieth century and lived until 1979. Click on her photo, taken in 1904, to see what she lived through…

My Grandma in 1904

And so…

If we still want to convey that we’re having an experience that has never occurred before, here are some synonyms to at least make our language more interesting and possibly more accurate. Take your pick…

What word best describes it for me? 

How about for you?