Linguist and lexicographer Ben Zimmer analyzes the origins of words in the news. Read previous columns here.
It all started with a bad hair day.
On the morning of April 11, Amy Watson, a preschool teacher in Portland, Ore., went to get tested for Covid-19 at a drive-up site after suffering a chronic fever. She hadn’t washed her hair, so she threw on a trucker hat with a picture of a squirrel on it, snapping a selfie to share on social media.
Two days later, her test came back positive. Later that month, after connecting with others who had contracted Covid and were still experiencing a range of chronic symptoms, she decided to set up a support group on Facebook . “I was sitting in my living room, and that hat I wore in the picture was on the coffee table,” Ms. Watson told me. The trucker hat got her thinking of long-haul trucking, inspiring her to name the Facebook group “Long Haul Covid Fighters.”
As the group kept growing, members began calling each other “long-haulers.” People gravitated toward the term, Ms. Watson recalls, because “it was validating as a group of patients to have a name given to what we were experiencing.”