Language of corona virus

Hi everyone, sorry it has been a little while since I have written a blog. With the pandemic, I haven’t felt particularly inspired to put pen to paper… I am coming to terms with a new normal, but the thought of being in some lock down situation for the remainder of the year is slightly alarming.

I fight hard to keep a sense of my own independence with having MS, and to feel as though some of my independence is compromised is more challenging than i like to admit at times.

Having said that, society (and me) are coming to terms with the new normal, and the bizarre situation that it has imposed on our families, our towns and our cities. Everyone is getting used to a new language, and finding ways of talking about how the virus is having an impact on their lives.

As someone who has studied a scientific subject, I am used to using words such as pandemic, virus, PPE, quarantine, sanitiser and disinfectant, however these words and more (such as isolating, key worker, WFH, and lockdown are part of a new vocabulary that has become integrated into our everyday lives (who even used the word furlough before March 2020?). Interestingly, few people had heard of the word ‘corona virus’ before this year, and many still believe this is a ‘new’ threat to mankind, however this is in fact one from the group of viruses that cause the common cold each year.

Some recent examples of words that have been accepted into our dictionaries are COVIdiot (someone who denies and goes against public health advice, or does daft things such as wearing a face mask with a cigarette hole in it), COVIDeo parties (group chats on Skype and Zoom) and my favourite ‘COVexit – our exit strategy for the lockdown.

Additional favourite covid’isms’ of mine are  ‘Infodemic‘ – the outpouring of unsubstantiated claims on the media, ‘elbow-bump‘  the new 2020 handshake, ‘Blursday‘ for any day of the week as we are all disorientated locked in our homes.

Language changes in a social crisis

It has been incredibly fascinating to see the lexical creations related to the current social crisis. We need only look to other periods in our history to see that this creativity has occurred before. In World War II, we were given FUBAR (f**ked up beyond all recognition) and SNAFU (situation normal all f**ked up). From the war in Vietnam, there was the invention and bringing to common use of ‘clusterfuck’. Coming to more recent times, we have integrated Brexit, regrexit, Brexiteers and remoaners into our everyday language. Conversations have new phraseology of hard borders, soft brexit, flextensions and back stops.

Typically when there have been health crises such as HIV and Spanish Flu (1918) there is little more to remark on than a new disease name entering the dictionary. Coronavirus has changed all of this with the new innovative and inspired words – why has this happened and why have the words taken hold across the globe so unanimously?

In such a short space of time, this virus has entered our lives and interrupted our sense of normal. We have closed businesses, stopped seeing friends and family, and transformed the way we shop, eat and work. With this comes new words to help us make sense of our new normal and the world around us, to talk about the impact that the virus isn having on our lives, to laugh and joke in times of adversity. It is also a way of people being able to engage with their worries and share some of their experiences with others. Using these common words, these new phrases enable people who are going through a shared traumatic experience to talk around a common reference point. Whilst we are unable to socially interact face to face, the ability to share these words and have a conversation about the virus is a way for people to feel closer and connected.

Certainly one of the biggest changes is our ability to connect using digital technologies, and access to people using social media is almost instantaneous. We are able to connect with family and friends across the globe, laugh together and share content. Whilst we previously were able to share new words and memes locally, we are now able to share these new words outside of our own local community. In a similar way to the pandemic that has spread globally, these creative linguistic changes have also been able to cross borders.

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