The Worst Word You Could Say in a Crowded Room Right Now, Study Says
A new study shows that there may be a correlation between word choice and COVID spread.
The words you use matter—even in terms of public health. The coronavirus can spread in many different ways, and talking is just one of them. However, not all words have the same potential to spread COVID when someone is speaking. According to a recent study, the worst word you could say in a crowded room right now is a word that starts with the letter "P," like "puff" or "picked." Read on to find out why, and for more on how talking can transmit coronavirus, discover how The Way Americans Talk May Have Made COVID So Much Worse.
Researchers for the new study, which was published Sept. 25 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that normal conversations within an indoor space could spread the coronavirus at least as far as, if not farther than, social distancing guidelines recommend.
"People should recognize that they have an effect around them," Howard Stone, PhD, one of the researchers for the study and professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Princeton University, said in statement. "If you speak for 30 seconds in a loud voice, you are going to project aerosol more than six feet in the direction of your interlocutor."
The researchers used a high-speed camera to film the movement of tiny droplets being spread from a person speaking several different phrases—from short statements, like "we will beat the coronavirus," to nursery rhymes, like "Peter Piper picked a peck" and "sing a song of sixpence."
The study concluded that certain statements made much more of an impact than others. The researchers said that the sound from the letter "P" creates puffs of air in front of the speaker, while an entire statement using "P" sounds, such as the alliterative "Peter Piper picked a peck," created what the researchers called an entire "train of puffs."
"Phonetic characteristics introduce complexity to the airflow dynamics and plosive sounds, such as 'P,' produce intense vortical structures that behave like 'puffs' and rapidly reach one meter," the researchers wrote in their study. "However, speech, corresponding to a train of such puffs, creates a conical, turbulent, jet-like flow and easily produces directed transport over two meters in 30 seconds of conversation."
This is especially troubling given the existing social distancing guidelines in most countries. In the United Kingdom, most of the guidelines adopt a one-meter social distancing measure, and in the U.S., most guidelines follow the six-feet rule, which is just shy of two meters. Both of these are shorter than the probable length the "jet-like flow" a train of puffs from a sentence full of "P" sounds could create within a room.
Luckily, while social distancing may be not as helpful in these circumstances, masks still appear to be. The researchers noted that masks played a critical role in disrupting the ability for droplets from a speaker's mouth to project more than a foot, much less two meters.
"Masks really cut this flow off tremendously," Stone said. "This identifies why (most) masks play a big role. They cut everything off." And for more on how coronavirus can be transmitted, New Evidence Shows How COVID Can Spread Outdoors.