Monday, March 23, 2020

Musings in a Time of Crisis III

I also believe that language is powerful and we might
 consider reframing the terms....
Christine Valtners Paintner
March 22, 2020


As someone who studied origins and deep structures of language many years ago, I have long been fascinated by word usage. I have been paying close attention to new words the pandemic has elicited or coined, as well as brought back into common and daily use: Coronavirus, COVID-19, pandemic, outbreak, clean, asymptomatic, presumptive positive, essential personnel, social distance, social distancing, physical distancing, sheltering-in-place, secure in place, index case, incidence, cluster, novel, community spread, contact tracing, herd immunity, patient zero, super-spreader, zoonotic, morbidity, self-quarantine, self-isolation, lockdown, hunkering down, flatten the curve, and others.

Some of these words, as expected, are from science or medical articles or literature but even those words are finding their way into lay usage through our newspapers or other media, including blogs, or when used, require definitions to clarify or differentiate meanings; for example, infectious and contagious, bacteria and virus, pandemic and epidemic, respirator and ventilator, quarantine and isolation.

Then there are words I'm encountering for the first time: fomite, meaning an object, for example, a doorknob, possibly contaminated with an infectious organism and aiding in that organism's transmission.

A few words have what some describe as "unfortunate" associations: for example, lockdown, which has an association with a security measure in a jail or prison to prevent rioting and harm. More recently, the word has been used to describe a security measure taken in schools when a shooter is believed to be on the premises or nearby. Currently, we are seeing it used to describe steps being taken by local, state, and in some cases federal governments to force the public to stay home and not to go out except for "essential" reasons, such as needing to purchase groceries. Some of the orders include punishments for violations, including arrest or jail time.

In her Sunday e-mail to subscribers of her Abbey of the Arts blog, Christine Valters Painter addressed the subject briefly, noting that she prefers a more positive usage of some of the words: instead of social distancing, for example, use compassionate retreat or compassionate retreating; instead of isolation, use solitude. (The link to this e-mail is above.)

Are there pandemic-related words for which you might substitute a different term? Share them in the comments section following this post.

For those so inclined, it's easy to search these words online, or look up their derivations and usages; just be sure to include the word Coronavirus, so that your search returns with results specific to the pandemic.


AAB College said...

Thank you for your awesome page. Keep up the good work

Louise Gallagher said...

I loved her phrase, "compassionate retreat" and the replacement of isolation with solitude.

Charles and I are two solitude sharing one love, one home, one desire, one hope.

Sending you much love and hope today Maureen.

Maureen said...

An artist in my FB stream is now using the term "artist in residence" for "shelter in place". It works!