The word epidemic was a viral buzzword way back when our medical technology wasn’t so advanced. People shuddered in fear upon hearing this word because it meant they could be the next victim of a disease. This is still true in some places today, but now there’s another way that epidemic makes people cringe: when it’s used in the wrong context. It’s not pretty when someone says they’re amazed at their country’s epidemic creatures. So we’re here to diagnose and cure a persistent symptom in writers and readers: confusing epidemic for its cousin, endemic.
Both endemic and epidemic are used to describe diseases in regard to their area of effect and the number of people they infect. This similarity comes from their shared Greek root demos, meaning “people.”
Endemic, from its en- prefix, refers to an innate quality of a specific people or place. It can also be something that is found exclusively or is confined to a particular place. Endemic is typically used to describe diseases in specific locations such as in the case of malaria in Africa and South America, or indigenous species and people, such as the enchanting wisteria flowers of Japan.
An epidemic is more ambitious: it can start in a specific location, then it spreads from there. World domination is its ultimate goal. From its prefix epi-, meaning “among,” the word pertains to something that affects a great number of people, even in areas where it isn’t normally found. Unlike its cousin, epidemic is almost exclusively used to describe deadly viruses. It’s never a good sign when you hear this word—unless it’s used to describe the latest Ariana Grande pop song.
Now let’s cure this pesky grammar pestilence by giving some examples:
Thankfully, we now have vaccines to protect children from the endemic chicken pox in the USA.
The Black Plague was an epidemic that took millions of lives all over the globe in the 14th century.
The matrilineal Ashanti tribe is a people endemic in Ghana and the Ivory Coast.
Having lost hope, Kari waited for the rising epidemic to take her as it did everyone else.
Galapagos tortoises are the poster child of endemic species, having an entire island of rare species named after it.
Lady Gaga’s “The Cure” was the latest epidemic to hit the international music scene.
It can still be a bit confusing since they both start with e and end in demic, but it should be easy to remember them by their differing letters. Note that endemic is native, while epidemic is popular.
We should now be safe from this contagious error. Hopefully, no one has to get quarantined by the grammar police for mixing these words up again. If you’ve got other questions on grammar and writing, just send us a line and we’ll respond to the best of our ability. Until next time!
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