Pandemic vocabulary happened, at home and in the office
Will the elbow bump replace the handshake at business meetings from now on? Who knew that zoom fatigue was a real ailment after too many WFH happy hours with co-workers?
New language develops in times of social crisis. According to lexicographers from the Leibniz Institute for the study of German Languages, more than 1200 new words were formed, reflective of the Pandemic. The propensity of combining nouns has allowed for one-off words like ‘Öffnungsdiskussionsorgien’ which loosely translates to orgies of discussion, describing the seemingly endless policy debates over reopening. A twist on the term facemask comes from three (3) nouns used to create mundschutzmode: mund (mouth), schutz (protection), and mode (fashion). A geisterveranstaltung is a ghost event with no real people in attendance like a sporting event, whereas an autokonzert is a live event where people remain in their cars.
Plenty of Pandemic words we already knew, yet the creation of terms (doomscrolled) and acronyms (WFH = work from home) invaded our homes and offices. But to claim that 2020 did not produce levity in lockdown would be an insult to words like: the Coronapocalypse; being called a covidiot by co-workers when your spouse zoombombed a meeting; Blursday being another day juggling home schooling and your day job.
Linguistic creativity also manifests itself in times of anxiety. WWII gave us: radio detection and ranging = RADAR; f’ed up beyond all recognition = FUBAR; status nominal / normal all f’ed up = SNAFU. The Vietnam war gave us: a mishandled or disorganised situation = clusterf***; the deliberate killing of a member of one’s own fighting unit = FRAGGING i.e. fragmentation grenade. And in more recent times, the British departure from the European Union gave us Brexit, Brexiteers, remoaners and regrexit.
We know that Wuhan is in the Hubei sheng Province of China, and community spread happened when infected people infected others. Even though a virus and bacteria are germs, one (1) thrives in a host while the other lives without. Our understanding is that the epidemic was sudden, but the Pandemic crossed all borders; if you were asymptomatic you were sick without seeming so during the incubation period, therefore WFH to flatten the curve to drive down infection rates to avoid an apex of cases, deaths and recoveries; PPE i.e. will be standard in the office, with mass increases in sanitizing stations and touch free technology.
Coronaggeden produced Coronababies while in quarantine. Maintaining social distance, our appreciation for teachers increased as parents juggled homeschooling and WFH. Many were furloughed in these unprecedented times, forced to ride the Coronacoaster during lockdown. Unemployment went up, although we felt isolated from co-workers. Daunting superspreader events unfolded, but we chuckled as quanteam meetings were zoombombed by children and pets. Doomscrolling about comorbidity rates and antibodies, learned about the importance of contact tracing when we covexited our circle of trust and entered what we thought was a safety bubble. Pandemic parties were drive-by’s, and Karen videos made us laugh and cry.
And if you were stricken with Covid-19, a respirator was WAY better to be put on than a ventilator, something infectious was not always contagious, and being told to stay at home was less daunting than being asked to shelter in place, even if we were smack in the middle of a containment zone.
Whether this Pandemic will have a lasting effect on the English language is still up for debate. “Words become fashionable in a moment, but fashions get replaced.” Anne Curzan, Linguist, University of Michigan