Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • adj. Spreading rapidly and extensively by infection and affecting many individuals in an area or a population at the same time: an epidemic outbreak of influenza.
  • adj. Widely prevalent: epidemic discontent.
  • n. An outbreak of a contagious disease that spreads rapidly and widely.
  • n. A rapid spread, growth, or development: an unemployment epidemic.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. A widespread disease that affects many individuals in a population.
  • n. An occurrence of a disease or disorder in a population at a frequency higher than that expected in a given time period.
  • adj. Like or having to do with an epidemic; widespread

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • adj. Common to, or affecting at the same time, a large number in a community; -- applied to a disease which, spreading widely, attacks many persons at the same time; See endemic.
  • adj. Spreading widely, or generally prevailing; affecting great numbers, as an epidemic does
  • n. An epidemic disease.
  • n. Anything which takes possession of the minds of people as an epidemic does of their bodies.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • Common to or affecting a whole people or a great number in a community; generally diffused and prevalent.
  • n. A temporary prevalence of a disease throughout a community: as, an epidemic of smallpox.
  • n. The disease thus prevalent.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • adj. (especially of medicine) of disease or anything resembling a disease; attacking or affecting many individuals in a community or a population simultaneously
  • n. a widespread outbreak of an infectious disease; many people are infected at the same time

Etymologies

French épidémique, from épidémie, an epidemic, from Old French espydymie, from Medieval Latin epidēmia, from Greek epidēmiā, prevalence of an epidemic disease, from epidēmos, prevalent : epi-, epi- + dēmos, people; see dā- in Indo-European roots.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
From French épidémique, from épidémie, from Latin epidemia, from Ancient Greek ἐπιδήμιος (epidēmios), from ἐπί (epi, "upon") + δῆμος (dēmos, "people"). (Wiktionary)

Examples

  • While I've argued plenty of times before about the media's irrepressibly giddy lust for slapping the term "epidemic" on any and every problem that effects a large enough group, there are far too many obscenely overweight people across this great land of ours, and if you think it's simply a personal decision that affects no one but them and the Wal-Mart scooters whose suspension systems they push to the point of collapse, think again.

    Chez Pazienza: Food Fighter: Freedom of Choice vs. Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution?

  • Authorities in Mexico, where 40 more deaths are suspected to have resulted from the disease, and some 1,000 patients are under observation, are already using the term epidemic, but the WHO has not yet gone so far.

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  • Mr. Vance criticized what he called an epidemic of "greed and corruption" that imposes "a hidden billion-dollar-a-year-tax on New York City's construction industry."

    Fraud Charged In Overbilling By Contractor

  • MARC, Haiti — Haiti's cholera epidemic is adding fresh urgency to the need to upgrade the country's water and sanitation network, a pivotal step to containing the highly infectious and deadly disease that spreads through contaminated water.

    Haiti Scrambles to Secure Clean Water

  • Now, last month, as many people know, the airlines and the FAA met to talk about just how to fix what they call epidemic delays, especially at JFK.

    CNN Transcript Nov 6, 2007

  • Personally, who do you think is responsible for what you call the epidemic of obesity?

    CNN Transcript Jul 30, 2003

  • JULIE GERBERDING, CDC DIRECTOR: It has not reach what we call the epidemic threshold in terms of deaths from influenza-like illness, but we wouldn't be surprised to see that happen given the pattern that's emerging right now ..

    CNN Transcript Dec 10, 2003

  • Texas Attorney General Gregg Abbott, a Republican, launched an investigation in 2005 to uncover what he called an "epidemic" of voter fraud.

    The Seattle Times

  • Asked what concern the U.S. has with the word "epidemic," Andy Laine, a spokesman for the State Department in Washington, said he couldn't "go into specifics" about ongoing talks.

    BusinessWeek.com -- Top News

  • Public health experts have used the comparison to draw attention to the nation's growing prescription drug problem, which they characterize as an epidemic.

    News - chicagotribune.com

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Comments

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  • Malcolm Gladwell's thinking of behaviours as epidemic in The Tipping Point.
    From yawning and shopping to smoking and suicide.

    May 26, 2009