Except for actual viruses, of course

For years now, people have been using the phrase “going viral.” You’ve heard it everywhere. Maybe your friend at work told you that a cat video was going viral. Maybe your son told you that a meme of a basketball player falling was going viral. Maybe you even noticed some things going viral.

Well, you can keep noticing, but you can’t keep saying it. And neither can your co-worker or your son.

That’s because the CCC—the Center for Communications Control, a joint venture of the FCC and the CDC—is banning the phrase.

“It’s one of those things that people just say,” said Frederica Kallos, the acting head of the center. “But in the time of coronavirus, it’s taken on a whole new meaning. How would you like it if you were in a cafeteria and heard someone say that something is going viral? Or an airplane? Or a hospital?”

The CCC has run studies that show that the phrase can be passed from user to user more easily than either novel coronavirus, SARS, or MERS. “When someone near you uses it, you are 78 percent more likely to use it,” said Kallos. “And then when you use it, the people next to you are — let me check my numbers — 78 percent more likely to use it. That has all the makings of a phrase pandemic.”

Exceptions are being made, of course, for news reports and conversations about actual viruses. “If you’re talking about a virus, you can say it’s going viral,” said Kallos. “Why? Because that’s what viruses do. To not say so would be irresponsible, just as to say so when that’s not happening would be irresponsible.”


But videos of people falling will keep making their way into the public consciousness, as will ironically captioned photos. So what are people supposed to say instead to show that they’re making the rounds? The CCC has released a list of replacement phrases intended to illustrate the rapid proliferation of entertaining media. They include “Getting Super-Popular, Dude,” “It’s Everywhere, Innit?,” “Try Avoiding That Video—Just Try!,” and “Spreading Like a Wildfire,” though Kallos admits that last one has its own problems.

“We’re hopeful that one of these will catch on, and go viral all on its own,” said Kallos. “Oops. Look: I said the thing you’re not supposed to say. It is awfully catchy. But it’s also catching. So that’s my message to the country. Be careful. Don’t let it be everywhere, innit, as they say.”

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