Corona or COVID-19, how it changed our language

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Shazia Gulzar

THE world has entered a totally new phase of life. Things might get back to the old “normal”, but nobody knows how much time it will take. Wearing masks in public, keeping a distance from each other, limited get-together, elbow nudging for hello, these are some of the newly accepted norms of today. Life has come back to normal as all the business are opened which had been closed for almost three months back in 2020. While our social demeanour has surely accepted this new culture infested by Coronavirus, this “new normal” paved its way into our language and daily conversation too. The academic editors continue to document the language as it grows, changes and evolves.
Our language started evolving when people were confused whether to call it Corona or Covid-19. It drew a vague line between classes for many but in the end the name didn’t matter for the fears associated with this virus was more of a concern for people than the name. Covid-19 not only expanded scientific horizon, it has defiantly enhanced our vocabulary too. Societies where words are segregated in gender columns had to decide and document whether to put the virus in masculine category or feminine? The French and Spanish societies have declared it as a feminine word so they are calling it “La Covid”. When people first heard of an outbreak, they probably weren’t ready to accept that it could break barriers. Soon it spread out to the whole world. The first unusual word we all learned was “Pandemic”.
Goggle reported that in March, it was the most searched word. The words we haven’t even heard in years are absolutely common now. Phrases like social distancing, lock-down, smart lock-down, end of lock-down are not just phrases anymore, they are actually laws now. It sounds mildly threatening but people have started accepting it. Another obscure word was “Quarantine” which we kept hearing a lot everywhere. The practice of quarantine began during the 14th century in an effort to protect coastal cities from plague epidemics. Ships arriving in Venice from infected ports were required to sit at anchor for 40 days before landing. This practice was called quarantagiorni in Italian which meant 40 days.
Medical jargons like asymptomatic, fatality rate, contamination they all found their way into our daily concerns. Obscure words like super spreader”, herd immunity, flattening the curve and self-isolation were being catapulted into common usage and sprawl into official words in Oxford Dictionary. A drug Hydroxychloroquine, after becoming widely famous by some, who advocated it as the magic bullet also made its way to the world’s dictionaries.
Some people say that Covid is caused by a bad astrological conjecture, some people say that it is a divine punishment while some conspiracy theorists believe that it was man made. Regardless, it has certainly changed every aspect of our life. These updates give us a glimpse into how language can quickly change in the face of unprecedented social and economic disruption. For coming generations these terms won’t be as new as they are for us. It is evident that this virus has changed our world palpably, not only it has stirred our health; our social and linguistic skills have also been evolved by it. The next time if we would be hit by anything, it would be “change”, for change is the only constant thing in this universe. We should be better prepared for more changes to come in future because more than a century ago, the great scientist Louis Pasteur said “Chance favours only the prepared mind.”
—The writer, based in Islamabad, holds master degree in Communication Science and occasionally contributes to the national Press.