The coronavirus pandemic has caught us unaware that more than 100 new words or phrases have burst onto the vocabulary stage. Well sort of. Actually, the actual word coronavirus has been around since the 1960s and the phrase social distancing a decade earlier. But brand new terms do include immunocompromised (you are vulnerable to the virus) and covidiot (he never wears a mask). Even the Thai government gave us a new expression last month: villaquarantine which means you self-isolate at home for two weeks rather than in a state facility.
Now every crisis in world history has been a crash-course in new concepts and words. In World War Two we got radar and blitz, whilst the gruesome Vietnam conflict offered cluster*uck which means a mishandled situation of which there were many. The 2008 financial meltdown introduced us to subprime loans and quantitative easing. Thanks to Brexit, we had remoaners and regrexits, not to mention new meanings to the terms backstop and hard border in understanding or misunderstanding the Irish question.
Dictionary compilers will tell you that inventing or reinventing words and phrases during a crisis is a good way to keep up people’s spirits. Instead of being passive consumers, the public assumes ownership and universally spreads the word or words, mostly by social media and global connectivity. So many people smile when they first hear the expressions herd immunity or flattening the curve. Not to mention coronababies (conceived during the pandemic) or that odd word upperware which means the clothes visible during video calls.
Indeed there is the currently popular videotelephonic wonder Zoom which has made significant inroads commercially into other social media platforms. You can now use zoom as a verb, as in the phrase “I’ll zoom you later.” Or you may prefer zoombombing which means hijacking a zoom videocall. The pace is dizzying. The Canadian premier recently warned against breathing or speaking “moistly” during pandemic, whilst the British chancellor talked about furloughing workers which turned out to mean not paying their salaries.
So the current infodemic can lead to doomscrolling which means that you might become depressed if you hear too much about Covid-19. That is particularly true if you turn on the TV and Donald Trump is talking about fighting the enemy or raising the barricades. Or Boris Johnson’s friends are saying he survived coronavirus because he is a born fighter. The claim there is that personal courage alone will successfully bring you out of the intensive care unit. Queen Elizabeth in UK last April addressed the nation and echoed Vera Lynn’s second world war song “We’ll meet again.” Vera passed away soon afterwards.
None the less, the platinum prize has to be awarded to the Germans who have now introduced the expression Offnungsdiskussionsorgien. It refers to the endless arguments in the European Union about whether to reopen the economy or close it down again. Maybe Brexit wasn’t such a bad idea after all.