Word of the Day

social distancing

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Liz Potter
Written by Liz Potter


taking steps such as encouraging working from home, closing schools, and cancelling large events in order to slow the spread of a disease

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.

Origin and usage

The compound noun social distancing is formed from the adjective ‘social’ and the noun ‘distancing’ which is derived from the verb ‘to distance’. It was first recorded in the 1950s.


The term social distancing appeared in the 1950s, when it referred to the action or practice of avoiding other people or groups socially or emotionally rather than physically. While that meaning continues to be used, especially in the field of sociology, the term was repurposed in the early 2000s to refer to the meaning with which it is currently mostly being used: maintaining a physical distance from others in order to prevent the spread of an infectious disease. As frequently happens, the noun has started to be used as a verb: a  recent article on theconversation.com had the title: “Nice to meet you, now back off! How to socially distance without seeming rude.” An adjective has also emerged to describe the kinds of social interactions many of us are now engaging in, so you can talk about having socially distanced drinks with your mates, or a socially distanced chat with your parents, interacting with them online while you stay in your respective homes.  Social distancing was a submission to Macmillan Dictionary’s Open Dictionary in early March, since when the everyday use in the UK has expanded to include keeping a physical distance from other people in public and staying away from everyone who does not live in the same household as you. You can submit your own Open Dictionary entries here.


Add their names to the front of this card and let them know that even though you’re social distancing, you still love them.”
(card advert)

“Here’s how we can build the world’s best socially distanced economy.”
(newspaper headline)

Related words

quarantine, isolation, self-isolation

Browse related words in the Macmillan Thesaurus.

About the author

Liz Potter

Liz Potter

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