It’s clear that the pandemic has changed dining as we know it, sometimes in potentially permanent ways. Now, so many of the catchphrases we got to know while eating in the COVID era are making their way into the firmament of the lexicon.
Ever order a burger from a “ghost kitchen” for “curbside delivery”? Merriam-Webster is enshrining both those expressions in its dictionary, two of a crop of food-related words that seem to capture our collective moment.
A “ghost kitchen,” according to its entry, is “a commercial cooking facility used for the preparation of food consumed off the premises,” and “curbside delivery” is a “service in which purchased items are brought to customers who wait in their automobiles in a designated area near the establishment.” Which is not to be confused with “curbside pickup,” another addition to the dictionary. Or another, “dine-in,” for that matter.
Many people might already know what these phrases mean, but their addition to the dictionary is a sign that they have entered common usage. “We define a word when we have evidence that it’s fully established in the language,” says Emily Brewster, a senior editor at Merriam-Webster.
The dictionary’s staff monitors Twitter and other common usage, she says, but it relies on “published edited text” to determine if a word meets the standards. The pandemic, like other history-altering events such as World War II, has expanded our vocabulary, and not always in welcome ways: Other new nonfood entries include “vaccine passport” and “long COVID.”
They’ll be appearing alongside newly adopted words including “horchata” and “chicharron,” both borrowed from the Spanish language. “Goetta,” which is “meat (such as pork) mixed with oats, onions, and spices and fried in the form of a patty,” comes from German.
Brewster explains that additions are often words or phrases that have recently bubbled up (the ubiquitous “air fryer” is another new one), but others are on a slower march. For example, “wiener roast” is another 2021 addition. The dictionary has long defined both “wiener and “roast,” respectively — and the idea of a “gathering at which wieners are cooked over a fire or grill and eaten” isn’t exactly having a viral moment.
“Sometimes, it’s just that we are getting around to it at this point,” Brewster says.
Merriam-Webster also tracks geographical usage. For instance, “fluffernutter” was mostly used in the Northeast (to describe a sandwich of peanut butter and marshmallow fluff), but the editors have determined that it has spread beyond its regional origins, and included it, too, in the most recent crop of inductees.
Some people might blame all those curbside pickups for the ascendance of another food-adjacent entry for 2021: “Dad bod,” which the dictionary identifies as “a physique regarded as typical of an average father; especially: one that is slightly overweight and not extremely muscular.”