Welcome to the Coronapocalypse
Words Do Matter
Pandemic Diary Entry #54
August 3, 2020
I love words. There are shelves and shelves in my library filled with dictionaries. There are also books and books on the etymology of words. I am a big believer in the fact that English is a very fungible language, and that is its strength. As a writer, I have begun to become interested in words that help us explain what is happening on a personal, as well as world level, during the pandemic.
Ronald Carter, former Professor of modern English language at the University of Nottingham, gives some insight into how words help us cope, “verbal play is often undertaken for humorous purposes, serving in part to bring people closer together”, as well as challenging the “normal” view of things. Inventive language is not just ornamental, but practical.” I think that a lot of us are taking relief in gallows humor whether in memes or words.
According to Fiona McPherson, the senior editor of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), coronavirus appeared only 0.03 times per million tokens (tokens are the smallest units of language collected and tracked in the OED corpus) in December of 2019. The term Covid-19 was only coined in February, when the WHO announced the official name of the virus. But in April, the figures for both Covid-19 and coronavirus had skyrocketed to about 1,750 per million tokens (suggesting that the two terms are now being used at roughly the same frequency).
In April the OED had an unscheduled update on words relating to the pandemic. They actually only placed one new word, Covid-19, in the dictionary, but there was an update to other words to reflect their usage during this crisis, such as elbow bump, self-quarantine, shelter in place, social distancing, PPE (personal protective equipment), and WFH (working from home).
Fortunately we have thousands of words in our lexicon to help us cope. Many of these aid us in personifying the virus giving us a way to confront it, and our emotions. When we use words like cruel to explain Covid, it is stating a fact, the virus is cruel and scary, words help us face our feelings.
Dr. Robert Lawson, a sociolinguist at Birmingham City University explains that words “allow us to name whatever it is that’s going on in the world. And once you can name the practices, the events, the social conditions around a particular event, it just gives people a shared vocabulary that they can all use as a bit of a shorthand. I think ultimately if you can name it, you can talk about it; and if you can talk about it, then it can help people cope and get a handle on really difficult situations.”
In the news, we hear leaders around the world using military words such as battles and front lines in their press conferences. These terms are dangerous, and detract from the actual issue. The use of these words can give leaders permission to push for an overreach in their power and a limit on our social liberties while fighting the virus. The use of military terms leads us down a path that assumes we can beat this virus into submission, we can not. Despite what our politicians say, this is not a war. We are going to have to learn to live with this virus for a long time, we can not conquer it, let us just hope we can tame it.
We are all in this together shows we care about humanity. It is a communal and co-operative phrase. It is beginning to sound a bit trite while we enter another month of confusion, but it is still a good upbeat way to look at the virus. Stay Safe has also become a great way to acknowledge that you care about the person you are communicating with, it is a nice replacement for see ya, tata or ciao.
We have come up with words to help communicate what we know and how we should act, such as flatten the curve and social distancing, while we contemplate herd immunity.
We also have the new normal which is an oxymoron at best.
What we are seeing more of, at this time, are neologisms. Neologisms are defined as a relatively recent or isolated term, word, or phrase that may be in the process of entering common use, but that has not yet been fully accepted into mainstream language. Neologisms are often driven by changes in culture and technology.
Two of my favorite neologisms are Blursday or Whensday, who doesn’t get the implication? The end of a Blursday or a Whensday leaves me Coronalusional, suffering from disordered thinking as a result of the pandemic.
I love my Fridays where I enjoy a quarantini while zooming with my cousin in our virtual happy hour. The more paranoid of my friends are desperately trying to find alternative streaming services for their video calls because they are truly afraid of being zoombombed. The Japanese, who have a word for everything, call this time of day on-nomi, which literally means “drink online.” I guess the sakitini just turned into a quarantini.
I write, so I am always looking for story ideas, and yes, because of this, I am the first to admit my addiction to Doomscrolling, the act of scrolling through social media, and seeing a continuous stream of doom and gloom.
Many conversations these days includes the question, what are you Quaran-streaming? A past time that has sent Netflix stocks soaring.
The mailman knows better than anyone that I am guilty of spendemic (spendemicing?). A term coined by The New York Post referring to the increase in online shopping during the pandemic.
I refuse to be a Covidiot or Maskhole or Morona, the perfect description for people that simply will not wear a mask.
If zoomcall after zoomcall has you fed up with your significant other, there is always zumping the action of breaking up with someone via a video service such as zoom.
Historically, lockdowns have often lead to an increase in family size, (although apparently not this one). These blessed events will produce a slew of coronababies. Of course, they will grow up and become quaranteens. This generation of children will most likely find themselves being called coronials.
Someday we will all be able to loxit or covexit: the exiting from lockdown and its rules. And while I doubt this will happen until a lot of time has passed it is possible we will be lockstalgia when we look back fondly upon the time of lockdown and tell stories to the grandchildren.
Global warming has given us stronger and stronger hurricanes leaving people in the Gulf of Mexico and across the Eastern Seaboard dealing with social distancing during Covicanes.
English is not alone in creating new words. German has given us kummerspeck, or coronaspeck, literally “grief bacon”. This is the weight you are putting on while waiting for the world to return to normal. German speck is a bacon-like pork fat.
My grief bacon is coming from my relaxation therapy of making uniquely flavored ice cream. However, a few of those pounds are the result of my wonderful neighbor Jasmine’s quaranbaking.
The German’s have also given us hamsterkauf. Here the German words Hamster (hamster) and Kauf (buying) are melded, giving us a word that compares hoarders to hamsters who fill their cheeks with food.
Many words we are using to help convey what is going on around us have been with us for a long time:
Pandemic (adj) comes from the Latin word pandemic, and from Greek pandemos, which is “pertaining to all people” derived from pan (all) and demos (people).
The word pandemic also gives us a kangaroo word, which is a word that contains its own synonym, with the letters to spell that synonym already placed in the correct order, such as Panic out of Pandemic.
Virus (noun) comes from fourteenth-century Latin, virus, “poison, sap of plants, slimy liquid, a potent juice”. The way we use it today as a scientific term dates to the 1880s the concept of a computer virus entered the lexicon in 1972.
Contagion (noun) comes from the Latin word contagio “a touching, contact,” often in a bad sense, “a contact with something physically or morally unclean, contagion,” combining com “with or together” and tangere “to touch.”
America is in the middle of a tug of war between Science and Politics. This is described using the word Infodemic (a portmanteau word from information and epidemic). It is the outpouring of often unsubstantiated media and online information relating to a crisis.
Science (noun) pops up in many places starting in the 12th century from Latin scientia which meant “knowledge.”
Politics (noun) “science of government,” from politic (adj.), modeled on Aristotle’s book on governing and government titled ta politika “affairs of state.” His book was rendered into English in the mid-15th century as “Polettiques.”
New words in a crisis is not unusual. War, in particular, has given us new words such as radar, fubar, and snafu, ammo, armed to the teeth, heads will roll, AWOL, bite the dust, and cash in one’s chips, clusterfuck and fragging as well as boondocks, DMZ, and domino theory, to name just a few.
I can not wait for an entire book to come out in the future documenting all these virus-related changes to languages around the world. There just might be room on a shelf in my library for it if I would stop spendemicing on new books every week to help me get through all of this.
Choose your words well, they may be saying more than you thought.
My Horoscope for today: Don’t let friends rope you into a heated debate or you will wind up getting blamed for stirring the pot.
San Francisco weather: 66 degrees and sunny
NYSE DOW opened at: 26542
NYSE DOW one year ago: 26259
Foreign word of the day: subject
OED word of the day: Sitz im Leben, In Biblical criticism: the circumstances or social context in which a text, teaching, tradition, etc., was created or preserved; the doctrine of studying this as a critical method
Days since Shelter In Place was initiated: 144
Reading: Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Reading slowly: Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace / The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Studying on line: History and Context of Russian Literature
My Black and White Picture of the Day
Something Silly From the Internet: