Shakespeare, thou should be living in this age!

Given that Will, the Swan of Avon, was responsible for introducing lots of words into the English language (including ‘bandit,’ ‘lonely’ and ‘critic,’) it’s a pity he’s not around today.  The Covid-19 crisis, like many seismic changes in our history, has brought many words, some new, some just unknown, some adaptations of existing words of phrases (‘flatten the curve’ anyone?), into common usage.  On top of this are the abbreviations:  how many of us are WFH – and who had heard of PPE prior to March this year?

Of the new words, ‘Covidiots’ is probably the best known, but the word corona, while not strictly speaking new, has also entered the vocabulary of most of us.  Who had ever referred to themselves as having a coronavirus before when we had a cold?  It’s even being brought into use as a prefix, for example in ‘corona-babies’ – of which we can expect quite a few early in 2021.

The BBC’s Worklife pages (25th May) put the increased use of the two key words in perspective, explaining, “According to Fiona McPherson, the senior editor of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), back in December ‘coronavirus’ appeared only 0.03 times per million tokens (tokens are the smallest units of language collected and tracked in the OED corpus). 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).”

When it comes to increased use and adaptation of existing English phrases, ‘virtual happy hour’, ‘covideo party’ and (taking over from Netflix) ‘quarantine and chill’ are proving popular and when we look at other languages, they too have joined the party.  The Spanish have ‘covidiotas,’ the Poles use corona as a verb, while the Germans compounding of terms has resulted in the magnificent ‘Öffnungsdiskussionsorgien’, which means ‘orgies of discussion.’ This is as good a way of describing the media’s relentless desire to fill pages/airtime with any allegedly expert views they can find, even if, in my opinion, they seem to be alienating thousands of their readers/viewers as a result.  Mind you, there are thousands more who enjoy ‘Doomscrolling’ through the plethora of grim statistics and stories online and on television. However, perhaps my favourite is ‘Blursday’, which is a marvellously apt description of the way in which the days morph into each other during lockdown.

There are many more, in English and other languages, and doubtless others will emerge, especially, I suspect around the business of travel as we slowly start to take to the skies again. I rather like the idea of  ‘Holimunity’ which will, I hope, become the word of choice for those who have recovered from the virus and now believe it allows them to get on an airplane so they can sit on a half-empty beach, wearing a mask and slathered in a mixture of 70% alcohol gel and sun-cream…

Fiona Woodford, Global Connects