Weltschmerz, Zoom Dread, and Other Terms That Define Pandemic Life

Words to help you make sense of your experience

Forge Editors
Published in
6 min readApr 30, 2020


Photo: Isabel Pavia/Getty Images

So many things have been feeling upside-down lately: Introverts are discovering that they’ve been extroverts all along. Time isn’t working the way it’s supposed to. Everyone is annoying, and your Zoom face doesn’t even look like you.

Over the past couple months, the strangeness of this moment has seeped into every nook and cranny of our daily lives, exposing, among other things, the limits of our language. What do you call it when you’re homesick for someplace far from home? Or when peeling off your sweatpants and pulling on jeans feels like making a major life change? What’s the term for a friendly stranger you used to see regularly enough to now miss, even though you don’t know their name?

Naming a thing is a powerful act. It gives us a sense of understanding over our own experience. A sense of control. Even a sense of comfort: When you suddenly know what to call something, it no longer feels quite so strange. To that end, the Forge editors have pulled together a list of words and concepts — some from other eras or parts of the world, some borrowed from academic disciplines, some entirely new — to help you make sense of a time when little else does.

Pants drunk: Translated from the Finnish “kalsarikännit,” this refers to the time-honored tradition of drinking in your underwear at home. The practice has been gaining traction in the U.S. during lockdown, when, for most Americans, pants became optional but alcohol did not. —Ross McCammon, executive editor

Enclothed cognition: A psychology term describing the way our outfits affect our psyches. It’s why the simple act of putting on real pants — yes, the kind without an elastic waistband — can feel so utterly transformative after several weeks of sweats. —Cari Nazeer, deputy editor

Anticipatory grief: The feeling of mourning something that hasn’t yet been lost. The great pause we’re in right now has stirred this feeling in many people as they hunker down at home, uncertain what things will look like when this is over but knowing they won’t go back to normal. —Amy Shearn, senior editor