As April 23 is William Shakespeare’s birth and death date, being alert to language adaptations inspired by the coronavirus seems appropriate. One group of new words pertain to how the illness has changed our daily lives. A second are words the President has ascribed with new meaning.
In the first category, we have Zoonosis which Mark Barabak, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, admits is an existing technical term thrust by the current crisis into public vernacular. It means “spreading from an animal to a human.” Less scientific, yet more inventive is Quarantini, a mashup of quarantine and martini and which describes how to escape the tedium of being housebound. Coronials refer to the upcoming generation off-spring spawned during the lockdown. Sheltering-in-place and social distancing are new but self-describe themselves. Doomscrollling may be misleading, however. One’s likely to think of the Death Master File. Instead, it’s slang for the habit of obsessively trawling the internet for dystopian news. Last, but not least, is Covidiot: a person who has an open-mind equivalent to that of climate change deniers and flat earth people.
These new words exist in Miriam-Webster’s online dictionary, so feel free to dazzle a friend during a game of scrabble. Keep a safe distance, however, not because of the virus but because you don’t know how your friend will react to this new terminology.
The second category consists of old words to which Donald Trump, as he grapples with the virus, has given new meaning. Or, in some cases, old words which have no meaning for him.. To be fair, no one can fully prepare for a disaster. Disaster is a term that refers to events too big and unexpected to predict. Other presidents have faced national crises that were unpredictable. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was blind-sighted by Pearl Harbor. Jimmy Carter never envisioned Iran’s takeover of the American Embassy in Tehran. George Herbert Bush was surprised when Saddam Hussein’s invaded Kuwait. George Walker Bush got gobsmacked by 9/11.
As a people, we don’t require our leaders to be clairvoyant. But in difficult times, we expect them to rise to the challenge, not resort to mumbo jumbo. Since January, when the pandemic began in China, Trump has engaged in magical, wishful speaking.
He told us the illness would soon pass. It didn’t. Next, he said the country had a wellspring of supplies to fight the pandemic. We didn’t. When hospitals pleaded for body bags, he seemed offended. The states were responsible for body bags, he huffed. His job was to serve as the nation’s cheerleader. Other words, like gloves, protective masks, sanitizing equipment, ventilators, and test kits leave him staring at the doctors and nurses pleading with him as if they’d spoken in Swahili.
Even so, people do want to believe in their president. A recent poll reveals 47% of covidiots still do. (The Week, April 17, 2020, pg. 17.) The rest no longer believe but continue to hope. Daily, they make unanswered calls to the federal government on the off-chance Trump’s words “rescue package” aren’t another example of his magical, wishful speaking.