Word Play – Quarantine jargon

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: Today is Friday, May 15th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Myrna Brown.

MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: And I’m Megan Basham. Next up: George Grant on how extraordinary circumstances change the way we speak.

GEORGE GRANT, COMMENTATOR: Benjamin Jowett, in his Victorian idiomatic translation of Plato’s Republic, famously rendered one of the philosopher’s proverbial quips as, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” He might have just as well asserted that it is also the mother of vocabulary. After all, it is almost always the case that the emergence of new circumstances will necessitate new lexicons to describe them.

It can’t have escaped the attention of any of us that the COVID-19 novel coronavirus pandemic has not only dramatically changed our lives, it has dramatically changed our language. Our everyday conversations are now cluttered with epidemiological quarantine jargon. 

We speak about asymptomatic risks, case clusters, frequency curves, and incidence rates. We find ourselves repeating statistics about droplet transmission, herd immunity, super-spreaders, and incubation periods. I’ve even heard few folks speak with new-found authority on viral seasonality, pathogenicity, immunocompromised virulence, and zoonoses.

Perhaps more interestingly, the epidemic seems to have spread slang faster than the virus itself. So, we now dismally discuss the coronacession and coronageddon leading inevitably to depressorona

On the brighter side, many coronials find themselves coronacocooning and coronacuffing with their coronatinis—I suppose that must mean that they’re micro-socializing in an extended virtual happy hour.

Inevitably, a few derogatory terms have also crept into our vocabulary. Skeptics and conspiratorialists are now disdained as Covid-Truthers or Quarantrolls. Those who disregard social distancing guidelines are sometimes dismissed as being Wuhanified or Covidiots. Protesters against the more draconian government lockdown decrees talk about the tyranny of an emerging Epidemiocracy or Covid 1984

From the Quarantech apps we’re using to the Quarantips we’re trying, from the Quarantrend fashions we’re wearing to the Quarantough resolve we’re undertaking, it is evident that viral jests, jibes, and neologisms have run rampant.

Rita Mae Brown has asserted that, “Language is the road map of a culture.” If that’s the case, then our post-corona culture really is all over the map.

This is George Grant.


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