To Coin a Phrase, or Several - 07/27/2020
I love words. I am one of those people who will buy books to read about words. My favorite word expert is a writer named Richard Lederer. He calls himself "the cunning linguist" (clever, huh?), and has written over 35 books about entymology, the evolution of language. He writes a weekly column for the San Diego Observer, and lately he has been writing about the new words and phrases that have come into usage since the start of the outbreak. I'm always interested in the funny new phrases that pop up around a crisis like this pandemic, and there have been quite a few added to the lexicon since the start of the year.
For one, there is the name of the virus itself, COVID-19. Many people erroneously believe that the 19 stands for the number of Corona viruses that exist, when in fact it refers to the year it appeared, 2019. COVID is formed from clipped compounds of three words: COrona VIrus Disease. The word Pandemic is from the Greek, deriving from "epidemic" ("among the people) and "pan" or all, hence, global epidemic. Corona is also from the Greek word for crown, and refers to the shape of the virus itself under a microscope: it looks like a tiny crown.
Then there are the many phrases we are using to describe the quarantine: lockdown, shutdown, shelter-in-place, remain-at-home, self-isolate. The word quarantine comes from the Italian and referred initially to 40 days, the number that a widow had the right to shelter in her deceased husband's home before it could be seized for debts. The word has evolved from 40 days to mean any length of isolation period. Lockdown is a misnomer referring to the volutary nature of the quarantine. No one was actually "locked down," although it may have felt like it. The shutdown refers to the closing of countries' economies due to the virus; most countries have reopened by now and are no longer in shutdown. Shelter-in-place means simply to "stay where you are." Remain-at-home is what we were all asked to do as far as possible during the shutdown. Self-isolation means basically the same thing: stay at home, alone (or with the people you live with, which is called Quaranteaming), and don't go around other people. Another new term, familiar to all now but wholly new in April, was social distancing, or maintaining six feet between you and the next person. This felt really odd in the beginning but is totally normal now.
The fun with the language comes in what people do with these terms. For example, an early new word that appeared was COVIDiots. This generally refers to anyone who doesn't believe that the virus is real but also refers to those who refuse to self-isolate or take recommended precautions. COVIDiots who refuse to wear masks are known as MASKholes. People who insist that hydroxychloroquine is a cure for the virus are called Hydroxymorons. The emotional whiplash one gets from sheltering-in-place for too long (one day you're getting projects done, hosting Zoom meetings, and baking sourdough bread, and the next you're weeping into an empty box of wine and wondering what day it is) is called the CORONA coaster.
Phrases like "Quarantine Hair" refer to the fact that since no one could go to a salon during the quarantine, we all either let our dark roots show and grew our hair long, or submitted to an amateur haircut at home that might leave a lot to be desired. Men grew facial hair, too. The Quarantine 15 (or more) refers to the number of pounds most of us gained from not going to the gym. Quarantine Dreams refers to the nightmares being reported by many people about tidal waves and being generally out of control. Virtue Signaling is a phrase that people use to describe those folks who take pictures of themselves wearing their masks at home (where they're not really needed), or who post on social media about donating their stimulus check to charity. And Stimulus Money refers to the lump sum checks that most Americans got from the government in April, which was meant to "stimulate" the economy.
In general, it seems that people don't exactly know what to call this era we are living through. Trump has infuriated listeners by calling COVID-19 the "Chinese Flu, " the "Wuhan Flu" (from the province where it first appeared), or the cringe-inducing "Kung Flu." Commercials talk about "these difficult times" or just "these times" as a blanket term for the quarantine. People with small children report that they are starting to sound like post-Apocalyptic times: "We used to go to the grocery store, before the sickness came." Too much sheltering-in-place will do that. Here's hoping as schools slowly start to re-open that children will start to talk like kids again.
Finally, and best of all, there are numerous song parodies appearing to make light of the virus. Some of my favorites are "My Corona" (sung to the tune of "My Sharona" by The Knack), "Sweet Caroline: CoronaVirus Edition" (sung by Neil Diamond and including phases like "hands, washing hands..."), Randy Rainbow's "Just a Spoon Full of Clorox" (referencing Trump's suggestion that drinking bleach might cure the virus), and "Stayin' Inside" (to the tune of the Bee Gees' classic "Stayin' Alive"). We may have lost much of our freedom to move freely in the world, unmasked, but thank goodness we still have our sense of humor.