Corona’s Vocabulary

Karen Russell: How the Coronavirus Has Infected Our Vocabulary, The New Yorker (6.04.2020)

Today, we are witnessing the shotgun weddings of words into some strange unions, neologisms sped into existence by this virus (“quarantunes,” “quarantini”), epidemiological vocabulary hitched together by Twitter hashtags. It seems like there is a parallel language contagion occurring. “Self-isolation,” “social distancing,” “abundance of caution”—pairs of words I’d never seen together in a sentence back in January have become ubiquitous. These phrases are travelling even faster than the virus, eye to mind, ear to mouth, disseminated by our iPhone screens and televisions.

 

Community spread” may be my least favorite on the covid-19 vocabulary list. It makes me picture a local theatre company with terrible British accents sneezing onto the audience. Nudists rolling like seals on checkered picnic blankets. “That’s a you problem,” my husband says. Fair enough.

 

Language is everywhere these days, and humans seem to have less and less to do with it. Are there English majors chained under the earth, forced to write these lines, or did an algorithm of some kind generate them? The Mad Libs of the press releases and public statements . . .

With an unholiness of fiscal re­assurance.

With a cornucopia of dread.

With a punch bowl of amnesia.

With an oil barrel of greedy optimism.


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