March 28th, 2006



For years the word I heard used to describe a widespread outbreak of disease was epidemic. Lately though, the news media has been using the term pandemic. Frankly, the following definitions from Merriam-Webster don't leave the difference particularly clear. It seems to me the news media are using the word pandemic simply because it's newer and thus sounds scarier than epidemic. Either that or they are using it to look smarter.

Main Entry: 1pan·dem·ic
Pronunciation: pan-'de-mik
Function: adjective
Etymology: Late Latin pandemus, from Greek pandEmos of all the people, from pan- + dEmos people -- more at DEMAGOGUE
: occurring over a wide geographic area and affecting an exceptionally high proportion of the population <pandemic malaria>

Main Entry: 1ep·i·dem·ic
Pronunciation: "e-p&-'de-mik
Function: adjective
Etymology: French épidémique, from Middle French, from epidemie, n., epidemic, from Late Latin epidemia, from Greek epidEmia visit, epidemic, from epidEmos visiting, epidemic, from epi- + dEmos people -- more at DEMAGOGUE
1 : affecting or tending to affect a disproportionately large number of individuals within a population, community, or region at the same time <typhoid was epidemic>
2 a : excessively prevalent b : CONTAGIOUS 4 <epidemic laughter>
3 : of, relating to, or constituting an epidemic <the practice had reached epidemic proportions>
- ep·i·dem·i·cal  /-'de-mi-k&l/ adjective
- ep·i·dem·i·cal·ly  /-'de-mi-k(&-)lE/ adverb
- ep·i·de·mic·i·ty  /-d&-'mi-s&-tE/ noun