New York City, we are continually told, is now the “epicenter” of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. Italy is the world’s “epicenter.” This term is used all the time in the news and was recently deployed by our mayor here in NYC.
I’m following up on a February 15 Language Log post by Mark Liberman about why this term is being used in this way. Rather than asking why people are using the term, I’m going to discuss how this word influences our thinking. “Epicenter” leads us to think about the current global pandemic in some unhelpful ways. Although less exciting, simply saying something like “New York City has the worst outbreak” would actually improve our conceptual understanding of this crisis.