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March 30, 2021

"It's Covid Outside" - Mysterious Syntax of Weather Covid

I wanted to post about a novel construction I've noticed throughout all of last year, which is 'it's covid.' Perhaps you've seen it too? 'Covid' is behaving similarly to weather.

"I would have gone to the fabric store, but it's covid outside."

"We had to stop having parties because it's covid."

"It's the holiday time, but it's covid." "Because it's covid."

Look up "it's covid outside" on Twitter and you'll find a number of people using the expression unironically.

There have been people noting the weather-ness of COVID:

Moms in 2019: Don't forget your scarf it's cold outside.
Moms in 2020: Don't forget your mask, it's covid outside.

We can easily replace all of these with weather words: "it's raining, it's sunny, it's snowing." Not all weather-related words are used in this way, though: "it's hailing" and "it's sleeting" do not sound natural, though they aren't ungrammatical.

"Covid" still doesn't take all the characteristics of a weather word, though. For one thing, although you can say "it's often sunny outside," you can't say *"it's often covid outside." It just sounds ungrammatical.

So "covid" is not behaving like an adjective, like "sunny." What about a verb? Let's compare "covid" constructions with other "Weather IT" constructions. Weather verbs behave specially with it.

  • "It somestimes rains after snowing."
  • *"It sometimes COVIDs after snowing."
  • *"It sometimes rains after Covid/coviding."

Hmm, not that either. Much like how "covid" normally behaves, it seems like it's a noun. But if it's a noun, why can we say "it's covid outside"? We don't say *"it's volcano outside". "Covid" is taking on aspects of an adjective in being able to be modified by "outside." But it's not totally an adjective, because we can't say *"it's often covid outside."

I end with a question - what is going on with this construction? Are there similar ones out there (e.g. "It's orange fog outside")? A random search shows that there is a very rare form, "it's fire outside" for "there's a fire outside" (source).