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The Vocabulary of a Crisis

Through words, we define our environment and circumstances. They provide us with a mechanism for setting boundaries around things, giving us a feeling of order and control. Words are powerful and can evoke strong emotions or take us back to a specific scene or setting – who can hear “We’ll always have Paris” without picturing Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca?

Since middle/late February, as the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak has spread globally, our everyday language has become focused on this overwhelming situation. Along with the “novel” virus, words and phrases which were previously unused by the public at large have become commonplace, and in some cases, a new vocabulary has developed to address economic, social and personal life. A few of the more ubiquitous examples are:

Pandemic–while not a new word, by any means, initially there was some reluctance to apply this term, which signifies an epidemic that has spread over a large area, typically globally, to the current crisis
Community spread–according to “spread of a disease where the infection source is unknown”
Distance learning–from elementary school to higher education, students around the country have moved to “learning” remotely in some form, whether through assignments posted, recorded classes or live classes through Zoom or other applications
Flattening the curve–slowing the spread of a disease to a level where the healthcare system is not overwhelmed
Herd immunity–immunity or resistance to a disease when a sufficient (usually very high) number of those susceptible have had the disease or have been vaccinated
Social/physical distancing–maintaining a sufficient distance from others in order to avoid potential infection from disease carriers and stop disease spread
Super spreader–an individual that unknowingly spreads a disease to an unusually large number of other individuals
Shelter in place/stay at home–more familiarly in terms of a weather, terror or chemical emergency threat, in conjunction with social distancing, we have all come to associate these terms exclusively in relation to COVID-19
Work(ing) from home (WFH)–living its best life as both a phrase and a (frequently hashtagged) acronym, work(ing) from home has become the new reality for most, unless deemed to be in an essential job

The list goes on, of course, with many tongue-in-cheek terms also arising as we attempt to maintain a semblance of humor during this challenging time. Virtual happy hour quarantini anyone? But don’t be a covidiot and have too many!

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