I’ve been making a list of all the new words and phrases generated by the pandemic. Some instantly fitted the bill, some were ingenious and/or funny but probably destined not to last, and some became overused and irritating within a short time.
First up, the medical terminology.
Coronavirus itself had been around, but only the scientists knew that it applied to lots of viruses, including the common cold, not just this latest nasty one. Hence the more careful started to describe it as the novel coronavirus, before it got an official name, which is SARS-CoV-2, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2, because of its genetic similarity to the virus that caused the SARS outbreak in 2003. It’s the actual disease that’s called COVID-19, meaning ‘the COronaVIrus Disease that started in 2019’.
Donald Trump started calling it the Kung Flu, which is a bit rude, as is Wuflu, although I do think that one’s rather cute.
The social terminology is more interesting. Top of the list in gaining instant worldwide currency and recognition is social distancing. I bet every country in the world has some version of this phrase by now. We all know what it means: no hand-shaking, no hugging, no kissing. Keep your distance in the supermarket, please, and don’t go sneezing, spitting or coughing in public unless you want to be treated like Typhoid Mary.
PPE is another one – Personal Protective Equipment. It didn’t take long before journalists, health workers and politicians were bandying this acronym about on the probably correct assumption that we all knew what the letters stood for.
Then there are those terms which had been around but which got new life. Herd immunity was one, and also patient zero, the presumptive first person to get the disease. Flattening the curve was probably already there, but only statisticians and demographers knew what it meant. Now we all do.
Pivoting was there too in management speak, but suddenly it got new life as something business owners should do to adapt to the new economic reality by turning to a new practice, for instance when beer and whisky makers started using spare alcohol to make hand-sanitiser instead of grog. Or should that be as well as grog, because while we were all aghast at the prospect of closed-down pubs pouring kegs of stale beer down the drain (who knew beer went ‘off’ that quickly?), by all accounts we were consoling ourselves in iso with just as much or more of spirituous and intoxicating fluids.
Iso-this, iso-that. Iso became an all-purpose prefix attachable to any number of activities – iso-baking, iso-workouts, iso-gardening, iso-desking. Iso-desking meant there would be no more hot-desking, the loathsome practice of forcing office workers to move constantly and share desks in the name of increased productivity, allegedly. Good riddance to it, I say. I for one am glad that iso-desking is part of the new normal.
Corona itself is a nice-sounding word – crown in the latin languages – that separated easily from the coronavirus (so named because of its shape) to lend itself to funny parody songs such as My Corona and any number of those playful portmanteau words at which English excels.
Words such as coronaverse. That’s where we all live now, hoping there won’t be an economic coronapocalypse to burden the coronials – the coming generation – too far into the future. Meanwhile, we try not to fall into a coronacoma – that state of iso-induced torpor that keeps us in bed later than usual, at least until it’s time to get up and start WFH. Everyone know what that means? I found out from some younger friends who were Working From Home. After that we might enjoy a quarantini, but not too many, or we might be tempted to go zoombombing our partner’s WFH meeting, which could lead to covidivorce. As for having an illegal dinner party, only covidiots would do that.
When the states started shutting their borders, some called it a kind of Covexit. When Western Australia did it, inevitably some wag dubbed it Waxit. We Tasmanians were the first state to pull up the drawbridge, thus instituting what I thought then and still think should be called Taxit. Did I coin this phrase? Perhaps. Has it taken off? Er, no. But it should!
So what irritates this old grump? Stay safe. Yes, yes, I know it’s an admirable sentiment but I find it especially annoying coming from rich celebrities doing workouts and baking sourdough bread in their palatial home gyms and kitchens. And it’s become the new have a nice day, and … well don’t get me started on that….