Word of the Day


© Getty Images
Liz Potter
Written by Liz Potter


in the context of a pandemic, any restricted area or group within which people can move and contact each other freely

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.

Origin and usage

The noun bubble is thought to be onomatopoeic in origin; that is, the word is thought to imitate the sound of bubbling. It has been used since the 14th century.


Bubble has a number of meanings and has recently acquired a couple of new ones. In the context of the coronavirus pandemic, a bubble is a restricted area or group within which people can move and interact freely. This sense was recently added to the crowdsourced Open Dictionary, with an example referring to a possible bubble of unrestricted air travel between New Zealand, which has recently declared itself virus free, and neighbouring Australia, which is on the way to being so. An even more recent use is related to a new policy declared this week by the UK government, but applying only to England. From 13 June any household consisting of an adult living alone or with children who are minors will be able to interact with one other household without observing social distancing, and even stay overnight. This arrangement, which applies to, say, lone grandparents wishing to see their children and grandchildren, or single people wishing to see partners they don’t live with, is being referred to as a social bubble. The Open Dictionary is a brilliant way of recording new and emerging language use. You can enter your own submissions here.


You can’t change your mind. You can’t swap bubbles or expand them to include more than one household.

Creating “bubbles” of rich countries risks exacerbating inequalities with poorer countries that are excluded.

The Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have opened their borders to one another, creating a coronavirus travel bubble.

Related words

ball, balloon, globe, orb

Browse related words in the Macmillan Thesaurus.

About the author

Liz Potter

Liz Potter

Leave a Comment