In this new situation and as the world comes to grips with the ‘new normal’ of the coronavirus outbreak, society faces the challenge of figuring out how to talk about the impact the virus is having on our everyday lives. It has led to an explosion of new words and phrases, both in English, as well as in other languages. This new vocabulary helps us make sense of the changes that have suddenly become part of our everyday lives.
Established terms such as ‘self-isolating’, ‘pandemic’, ‘quarantine’, ‘lockdown’, and ‘key workers’ are being used much more frequently. While an unfamiliar word, ‘furlough’, is suddenly being bandied about as a matter of course in the media. Though new to me, ‘furlough’ is an old word used in times gone by to describe military personnel being granted leave and missionaries returning to the UK on long leave. Now we are certainly in the throes of its ‘15 minutes of fame’.
In addition to the words that we are (mostly) already familiar with, coronavirus/COVID-19 neologisms are being coined quicker than ever. These include ‘covidiot’ (someone ignoring public health advice) and ‘covexit’ (the strategy for exiting lockdown), while coronavirus has acquired new descriptors – including ‘the rona’ and my personal favourite ‘Miley Cyrus’ (Cockney rhyming slang).
It will be interesting to see how many new words are coined before we can all return to the office.
Illustration: Øystein Reigem