The End of Summer in Locktown

FIRST REFLECTIONS ON CORONATIMES

Ironically, the self-isolation I have been practising for the last seven months did not mean that I was without work. Periods of WFH alternated with forays into an empty city. Youth crime subsided at first but did not disappear during the pandemic: importantly for me the gathering and analysis of evidence and preparations for trials involving gang violence continued, and I continued to help defence teams and prosecutors to interpret the language used in messaging and Drill lyrics generated by suspects living in gang environments (as described in earlier posts on this site). In April I wrote an article for the Magistrates Association about the relationships between language, youth and crime*

During my time in quarantine I continued to record and comment on the language of the pandemic itself as well as the toxic terminology of populist politics and racism. At the beginning of September the team at Lexis Podcast gave me a fresh opportunity to talk about these topics (my comments are in the second half of the recording)…

I had time, too, to write a profile of the humble, enigmatic London outsider artist, known only as Albert, for Raw Vision magazine…

https://rawvision.com/articles/ideal-homes-imaginary-elevations

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* THE WORD ON THE STREET

‘Bad language’ and why you should really try to keep up

Studies have shown that the language of the court can be intimidating and perplexing for some of those who pass through it. We naturally hope that all of those involved in legal proceedings have sufficient command of a language in common to conduct their business successfully. There are times, however, when language barriers become apparent and it becomes necessary to interpret, to translate – foreign tongues used by other nationalities of course – but also new and unfamiliar language originating in our own communities.

Language is something that we tend to take for granted; it’s a facility that every human possesses and uses constantly. In the workplace we have to depend on a shared understanding of language, whether formal, legalistic or conversational. Professional linguists, however, see language differently and distinguish not only between informal, conversational speech and formal or technical language, but between a ‘dialect’ – the language of a region, a ‘sociolect’ – the language of a particular group such as a specific profession, ethnic group, age-group or social class, and even an ‘idiolect’, the words, phrases and turns of speech favoured by a single individual.

The closer we look at the language people are using, the more potential there is for misunderstanding. There is the problem of keeping abreast of rapid changes – of learning new terms, making sense of popular entertainment catchphrases and reality TV references, for example (‘Love Island’ springs to mind). Perhaps the problem is most acute when it’s the language of another generation. Parents, teachers, police officers, too, struggle to make sense of the latest playground slang, gamers’ terminology and the bizarre expressions uttered by music fans, fashionistas and YouTube stars. Abbreviations used in texting and on social media  – YOLO, FOMO, SMH (‘you only live once’, ‘fear of missing out’, ‘shaking my head’) can also be baffling for older observers – not surprisingly because this sort of language is not designed to be understood by outsiders. Insiders use slang as a badge of identity to show that they belong to a particular group, equally it is used to exclude the people they don’t want to associate with; the old, the boring, the unfashionable and the unglamorous. Many users of slang, though, are surprisingly sensitive to what linguists call ‘appropriacy’ – matching their choice of language to the social situation – and wouldn’t employ a highly informal style in a formal setting such as a court. Problems arise when evidence involves language recorded in very different contexts.

If you struggle to understand the teenagers and young people around you when they call their schoolfriend a ‘durkboi’ or a ‘wasteman’ (both mean useless male) and try to cadge some ‘p’s’, ‘gwop’ or ‘Lizzies’ (all slang for money), you are not alone. There is a shared slang vocabulary that has established itself throughout the UK, often replacing colourful older usages (such as rhyming slang: ‘once a week’, a synonym of ‘beak’ or magistrate has disappeared) or local dialect. Popular words include ‘piff’, ‘peng’, ‘dench’, ‘gully’, all used to express admiration, ‘bare’ meaning many (as in ‘bare feds’ or ‘bare jakes‘, lots of police), ‘bait’ meaning obvious, ‘bruv’ and ‘fam’ denoting one’s friends or group. ‘Chirpsin’, ‘linkin’ and ‘lipsin’ refer to flirting, dating and kissing respectively.

New terms are being coined all the time because novelty is what gives the words their edgy, progressive quality, but, contrary to what many people assume, slang doesn’t fall out of use for years, it just moves from an older to a younger cohort; as it’s abandoned by the most self-consciously ‘cool’ it is picked up by the latecomers. A few parents and some teachers have managed to learn some of these terms, but trying to use them will inevitably provoke ridicule. In a 2017 survey only 4% of parents were able to successfully translate messaging slang, while 65% tried but repeatedly failed or misunderstood.

Slang, whether used covertly or out in the open, is a feature of all societies and languages and of all age-groups, too. It’s well established that those engaged in criminal activity, lawlessness or antisocial behaviour develop their own secret languages in order to communicate privately and to prevent outsiders from understanding these communications. Teenagers and young adults likewise develop their own slangs and restricted terminologies and often include vocabulary coined by gang members and criminals because it seems glamorous and daring. In the US and the UK highly informal youth-based dialects have arisen and the terminology in question is also used in music lyrics and on social media. The language of US rap and hip-hop music and UK–based varieties such as Grime or Drill music mixes AfricanCaribbean influences, especially Jamaican ‘patois’, with local colloquial speech and will be familiar to many young people, even those who are not engaged in antisocial or criminal activity. This kind of language is very rarely picked up by mainstream media, is not normally recorded in standard dictionaries and is difficult for linguists to collect. I do so by monitoring online messaging and online discussions among slang enthusiasts or slang users, examining music lyrics and, most importantly, by interviewing slang users themselves (as slang is still more a spoken than written variety) and asking them to give or send me examples of language used by them and their peers. Slang is not deficient language; it performs its functions efficiently in conveying meaning. However, because it is an underground, alternative code it is not subject to rules and authorities. This can often result in the same slang term having multiple meanings (hood, for example can refer to a criminal ‘hoodlum’ or to the neighbourhood in which they operate) and in meanings varying to some extent between one group of users and another. It also means that (because they are based on speech and not on written sources) the spellings of slang terms may vary and may be used inconsistently.

I have been collecting the slangs of adults and of younger speakers operating in all sorts of contexts, publishing a succession of dictionaries and articles over the years and teaching and broadcasting about these and other ‘nonstandard’ and controversial areas of language. As a linguist I became fascinated by a kind of language that, although exotic, anti-social, irreverent and frequently offensive is technically as complex and as creative as poetry or literature. It’s only by deciphering and understanding this sort of language – or rather these languages – that we can hope to enter the world of teenage cliques, young-adult in-groups and gangs, to come to make sense of their rituals and obsessions, their thoughts and feelings.

For more than a decade, and increasingly over the last five years I have been helping the police forces who are trying to control street crime and the lawyers who are defending those accused (nearly all of them still in their teens or early twenties). My task as a language analyst and an expert witness is to translate and comment on the slang terminology found on confiscated mobile phones, obtained by surveillance and electronic intercepts, or used in the course of live interviews. I’ve found that the officers in question and the legal representatives are dedicated, unprejudiced, painstaking and privately distressed by what they witness day-to-day. They may become familiar with the exotic, shocking language they are exposed to, but they require an expert objectively to interpret and assess the written or recorded evidence they work with, if necessary, too, an expert who can stand in court and testify on their or their clients’ behalf.

In looking at recordings of gang member’s conversations, for example, it’s crucial to know that a ‘burner’ or a ‘mash’ is a handgun; ‘dotty’ means shotgun, ‘Rambo’, ‘ramsay’, ‘cutter’, ‘shank’ or ‘nank’ is knife. When looking at jottings in a teenager’s notebook or listening to a hardcore Drill track recorded by a gang associate it’s essential to identify ‘trap’ as a term for selling drugs or the location where it takes place, ‘plug’ as a drug source, ‘dip’ as stab, ‘op’ as enemy, ‘duppy’ as kill, ‘dasheen’ as run away. The same words, catchphrases and slogans are shared across London and into other UK centres: the same gang culture with its obsession with status and respect, its territorial feuding and its violent tendencies seems to apply everywhere.

Nobody expects the average adult, even if an educated, articulate professional to be fluent either in the language of innocent teenagers or the criminal codes used by gang members. Where, then, can a legal professional or law enforcer go in order to get help with slang and street language? Standard published dictionaries do not offer much assistance, even dictionaries specialising in slang do not usually manage to keep up to date and to define and explain the latest terms. Magazine features purporting to explain what millennials and Generation Z are saying are invariably frivolous and inaccurate. One valuable resource is the online Urban Dictionary (www.urbandictionary.com) a collection of language posted on the internet by real people. Its entries are up to date and usually authentic, but more than half of the expressions on the site originate in the USA and some of the posts are private jokes or local nicknames. There is a small dictionary of the language of rappers and gangsters on my own website (https://language-and-innovation.com/2018/04/19/a-drill-dictionary/), and I can answer general slang enquiries at The King’s College Archive if contacted at tony.thorne@kcl.ac.uk.

#CORONASPEAK 3 – the mixed messages

A role for linguists in coronamessaging?

Jon Birch, channelling Turing and repurposing the Enigma machine

The UK government’s handling of the information transfer required in a national emergency has differed significantly from the strategies employed in other states. While Donald Trump has used the White House ‘pressers’ to expound a bewildering sequence of personal claims, accusations and commentaries, and Angela Merkel has favoured occasional official announcements via mainstream and social media, the government at Westminster has relied on daily televised briefings to keep the public informed of progress in combatting the pandemic and to advise on regulations and desirable behaviour.

After more than two months there has been a chance to reflect on the official recommendations and diktats and to assess their consistence and credibility. It is not clear exactly who is responsible for the drafting of messages or the invention of rallying cries and slogans. The ‘comms’ (communications, including information dissemination and public relations) team probably consists of activists involved in the Brexit Vote Leave campaign, ‘spads’ (unelected special advisors to ministers and the cabinet), spin-doctors and civil service speechwriters from relevant departments, (oversight by the GCS  – Government Communication Service – is unconfirmed) *. With an admixture of improvisations by the prime minister and cabinet members, the UK comms have been, in the view of many, a disaster.**

The details, including key statistics, have changed and mutated (at the end of June the two-metre social distancing rule was replaced by Boris Johnson’s advice to switch to ‘one metre plus’), the tactical positions adopted have pivoted and stalled, the advice has often  been bewildering or contradictory. Underlying themes may have shown more consistency, but consistency can describe a dependency on metaphors which may be unhelpful or confusing – above all the reframing of attempts to contain and overcome the virus as a ‘war’, with ‘heroes’, ‘non-combatants’ and hapless, tragic victims*** – the virus itself personified as an ‘invisible mugger’ who can be ‘wrestled to the floor’ by ‘have a go’ heroism.

With no other way of influencing events experts and non-specialists have taken to social media to critique and mock the successive claims. Professor Elena Semino declared herself ‘puzzled that the UK Prime Minister keeps referring to his government’s covid-related policies as ‘putting our arms around the public’, adding ‘Embodied simulation would be uncomfortable at the best of times, but now?!?’ Manchester Professor of Government Colin Talbot countered a succession of official claims on Twitter:

We need more testing. We’ll do 100,000 tests a day. ◼️You’re failing to do that. We’ll do 200,000 tests a day. ◼️We need to track and trace. We’ll have an app to do that. ◼️It not working We’ll set up a service to do that ◼️You haven’t

We’ll set up a world beating…

It is not only the verbal cues and rhetorical devices that have been deployed to manipulate, to confuse and to evade, but the visual signals, displays and symbology used, consciously or not, to influence and convince.****

 – Alex Andreou, on the ‘Stay Alert’ slogan

In a short interview last week I offered my own take on the evolution of covid-related language (as detailed in my two previous posts on this site) and a duty for linguists to become involved in scrutinising, clarifying and where necessary criticising the content of the present infodemic…

https://www.kcl.ac.uk/news/spotlight/spotlight-on-covid-pandemic-language-and-the-role-of-linguists

As was the case in the national conversation on Brexit the transmission and reception of official messages has been complicated by the role of some MSM (mainstream media) representatives, derided by their critics as ‘client journalists’, ‘courtier journalists’ and ‘stenographers’, in uncritically passing on information, seeming actively to endorse or promote the government line and failing to hold obfuscators or outright liars to account. This will be the subject of an upcoming article on this site.

* More on this, from a partisan viewpoint, here…

https://www.politico.eu/article/boris-johnsons-coronavirus-fudge/

** Doubts were being expressed from the outset…

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/mar/16/johnson-daily-briefings-matt-hancock-herd-immunity

*** linguists, among them my colleagues at King’s College London, have now begun to analyse the deeper implications of the figurative language employed in official discourse. I will be posting their findings once they become available. Here is one such report, from an Australian perspective…

Metaphorical militarisation: Covid-19 and the language of war

**** a commentary here on semiology, slogans and signage…

Order out of chaos: Covid-19 threat levels and the manufacture of competence

In June The Conversation published an interesting comparison of the effects of fake news and mixed messages…

https://theconversation.com/coronavirus-fake-news-less-of-a-problem-than-confusing-government-messages-new-study-140383

And it is not only in the UK that members of the public feel confused by official messages and advice, as this article from Vice confirms…

https://www.vice.com/en_uk/article/3azdqv/coronavirus-safety-guidelines-changing-confusing-united-states?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter

A  perhaps minor example of injudicious choice of words, and conflicting nuances of meaning and connotation, in July 2020. The bilateral travel agreements between states opening borders after lockdown were described by the UK government as air bridges. This term had until now more usually referred to a covered passage by which travellers can pass from an airport building to an aircraft.  In more difficult times it had denoted a connection by air between locations divided by sea or by foreign occupation. It is just possible, too, that the phrase might prompt memories of the very expensive, ultimately abandoned ‘garden bridge’ proposed by PM Boris Johnson for the Thames in London, or even the fantasies alluded to by ‘castles in the air’. In the event two different lists of permitted connections were published by the government leading to angry confusion on the part of travellers, airlines and the tourist industry. Led I think by the Foreign Office, from July 3rd official messaging quietly began to substitute the more literal designation international travel corridors.

On July 13 the government launched a new publicity campaign designed to inform businesses and the public on how travel will change after Brexit. Their latest gnomic slogan ‘Check, Change, Go’ and jargon formulations such as ‘field force team’ (for one-to-one telephone consultations) provoked widespread disbelief and mockery on social media, and puzzled consternation from exporters, importers and others. The spoof newspaper the Daily Mash commented (rudely and irreverently)…

https://www.thedailymash.co.uk/politics/politics-headlines/check-change-go-six-things-the-governments-new-slogan-could-mean-if-you-havent-got-a-fking-clue-20200713198455?fbclid=IwAR0r9Qx7yIN2rl8nU05Est6CqQ38V1naIfOtsbaQx8DlSjoFk0JvOMUqyeE

Later the same day erstwhile Tory-supporting Daily Mail journalist Dan Hodges tweeted: ‘Got to be honest, I’ve no idea what Government guidance is on anything any more. Masks. Distancing. Numbers of friends you can meet. When and where you can meet them. Going back to work. None of it. Clear Ministers have basically given up on trying to agree a coherent line.’

Philip Seargeant of the Open University, with whom I have collaborated, has written here on the contradiction between populist narratives and the kind of communications required to manage a crisis such as the pandemic…

https://www.afr.com/politics/how-the-pandemic-exposed-the-shortcomings-of-populist-leaders-20200722-p55ef5

At the end of July the Daily Mail ran another uncharacteristically critical piece on the latest slogans…

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8580437/Boris-Johnson-reveals-new-slogan-hands-face-space-test.html

…in September I was going to update this page with comments on the latest government initiatives, but Imogen West-Knights beat me to it with this Guardian piece (which mentions the ludicrously named ‘Op Moonshot’ project)…

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/sep/16/coronavirus-messaging-britain-operation-moonshot

#CORONASPEAK – the language of Covid-19 goes viral – 2

The second part of my Lockdown Lexicon, Covidictionary, Glossary of Coronacoinages

COVID-19 Updates - Alpha-1 Foundation

In trying to make sense of our new circumstances, under lockdown, in social isolation or distancing, we must come to terms with an array of new language, some of it unfamiliar and difficult to process, some pre-existing but deployed in new ways. Many of us, though, are empowering ourselves by inventing and exchanging our own expressions, some of which have already escaped the confines of the family or the virtual work group.

I listed in my last post some of the scientific and technical terms which have moved into everyday usage. Those can seem intimidating – for good reasons – but most have been readily understood.

This time I’m looking at the language that homeworkers and locked-down friends, families and individuals, in some cases journalists too, in English-speaking areas have coined to fill the gaps in the official narratives and to find ways of expressing concepts that simply didn’t apply a few weeks ago. This includes nicknames, jargon, slang, abbreviations, puns and recent catchphrases and clichés.

I have tried to categorise the terms: again, some have become familiar by now while others may remain mysterious to many. For the moment this is a work in progress – an ongoing project to track the language of the crisis and to operate a linguistic ‘rapid response’ in gathering data.

Although it is a first draft, I thought it important to publish the list now (you can find more on many of these expressions, which won’t appear in standard dictionaries for some time, simply by Googling) and to appeal for anyone reading it to send me new terms, either to this website or to Twitter @tonythorne007. As the list grows I will thank and credit as many contributors as I can.

These are the new expressions, in no particular order, but divided roughly according to theme or topic (there are some terms – isocosm, meaning the contracted reality we are now living in – is one, which could fit under several headings)…

Coronavirus: Supermarkets plan to cut services to stay open during ...

  1. Describing the new realities

Anthropause – the hiatus in human activities occasioned by the pandemic, seen in terms of its effects on nature, wildlife, etc.

Coronaverse (Guardian) – the now prevailing socio-economic order

Quarantimes – a hashtag or label for the prevailing circumstances under lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic

#Coronatimes – a hashtag on Instagram and Twitter: the period we are presently living through

BCV, B.C – (the period) before corona(virus)

Common invisible enemy (NATO) – virus as a sinister threat to the collectivity

Coronapocalypse – the effects of coronavirus framed as catastrophe

Radical uncertainty – doubts and uncertainty around decision-making in an unknowable future (title of a work by John Kay and Mervyn King)

Viral anxiety (New Statesman) – fear and uncertainty, sometimes excessive, due to the COVID-19 outbreak and its ramifications

Disinformation pandemic – the spread of fake news and false theories

Infodemic – the accelerated spread of disinformation

The coronopticon (Economist) – the notion of a national or global system of surveillance and control

Biosurveillance – monitoring the occurrence of contagion in a population

Security hygiene – methods intended to counter online scams, frauds and misuse of AI

Digital vigilance – raising awareness of and guarding against cybercrime and fraudulent claims

#coronanoia – paranoia induced by conditions obtaining in the pandemic

Caremongering (Canada and India) – organised acts of kindness and propagation of good news by volunteers

Armchair virologist – an unqualified self-styled expert on viral spread dispensing explanations and/or advice

Coronasplaining – purporting to explain aspects of the coronavirus-induced crisis, particularly to those who understand it better than the explainer

Coronaspiracy theories – conspiracy theories circulating as a result of the spread of COVID-19

Pancession – a pandemic-associated widespread economic recession

Disaster capitalism – profiting, profiteering and exploitation in conditions of local and global crisis

Disaster altruism – acts of benevolence in response to local and global crisis

#lockdowners – individuals coping with life in conditions of isolation

Wobble room – a safe physical space designated for the use of those experiencing psychological distress

Corona warriors (India) – frontline professionals, also known as covid-19 warriors, working to control the pandemic

Covexit – an exit strategy permitting relaxing of confinement and economic recovery following coronavirus-related restrictions

Second wave – a resurgence in the number of cases of infection following the relaxation of initial containment procedures

Corona crunch – the dramatic impact of the pandemic on e.g university income, investment returns

Post-normal science – instances where crucial socioeconomic decisions must be made despite uncertainty as to the relevant scientific facts

Contagion chivalry (New York Times) – an act or acts of selflessness during confinement

Coronacoaster – successive feelings of elation and despair experienced under conditions of confinement

#coronaclickbait – marketing messages or invitations to read information playing on COVID-19 fears

Loxit – the process of exiting from lockdown impositions

Loxino – lockdown exit in name only: an only apparent or partial transition

Circuit-breakers – halting an exit from lockdown by closing re-opened venues or ceasing re-started activities

#unlockdown – the process of relaxing or ending social and physical restrictions, or the period following their ending; equivalent to, or translation of the French déconfinement

Coronaphobia (Daily Mail) – fear experienced by the public at the prospect of having to return to work, send children back to school, use public transport, etc.

Bubble – a social group, a small number of family members and/or friends or teachers and students permitted to interact while wider social constraints continue, also a geographical zone within which travel and trade is permitted

Coronawashing – corporations or individuals taking advantage of the pandemic to promote their altruism, philanthropy and achievements

Cleanliness theatre/er – conspicuously thorough cleaning of hotels, restaurants, etc., intended to reassure customers: if in hospitals and public places it is known as hygiene theatre/er

Vaccine nationalism – competing to discover and produce an antivirus vaccine (benefitting from prestige thus acquired) and potentially then restricting availability to one’s own citizens

Air bridge – a travel corridor between two or more states allowing passage without quarantine. In July 2020, amid confusion, official messaging began to substitute the phrase ‘international travel corridors’

Scarring – long term negative effects resulting from initial harm suffered during social and/or economic upheaval

Security theater (American) – measures that make individuals feel safer without necessarily actually protecting them: public temperature measuring and airport security procedures are examples

Lockstalgia (Times) – the notion that we may look back fondly upon the period of confinement

Clandestine barbers – hairdressers operating illicitly before being allowed to reopen after lockdown

Decompression – the release of inhibitions and surge in misbehaviour expected following the opening of UK pubs and restaurants on 4 July 2020

Safecation – a holiday in a destination thought to be safe while the pandemic continues elsewhere

Wet pubs (Irish) – pubs selling only drinks and not food, so the last to be allowed to open after lockdown

#casedemic – the suggestion that governments are misleadingly using case numbers rather than more meaningful indices in order to implement unnecessary restrictions in what is actually a waning pandemic

The Rona | Know Your Meme

  1. Nicknames

Rona, Lady Rona, roni, rone – the coronavirus personified/familiarised

The rona – the coronavirus

The pandy – the global pandemic

The pando (Australian) – the coronavirus pandemic

nCoV – the coronavirus in technical designation or shorthand

Boomer remover – the coronavirus viewed as a phenomenon resulting in the decimation of the babyboomer demographic

Nightingales – first used as a nickname for those singing or performing morale-boosting music from balconies, in gardens, later abandoned when the Nightingale emergency hospitals were opened across the UK

Long-haulers  – recovered victims of the virus who suffer long-term after-effects

Rat-lickers – those refusing to wear a mask (from the idea that potential victims of the bubonic plague licked rats to ward off infection)

  1. Slang

Miley Cyrus (UK rhyming slang) – coronavirus

Covidiot – a person behaving irresponsibly in conditions of containment

Morona – a person behaving stupidly because of or during the coronavirus outbreak

Coronalusional – suffering from disordered thinking as a result of or during the COVID-19 crisis

Sanny (Australian) – hand sanitiser

Iso (Australian) – (self-) isolation

Isobar (Australian) – a home bar stocked, displayed and/or depleted in confinement

Isodesk (Australian) – a workplace improvised or used in confinement

Coronacation – cessation of study or work due to the pandemic, viewed as a holiday

Corona break – a period of confinement envisaged as a short holiday

Drivecation – a holiday, typically in a motorhome, in one’s own driveway

Hamsterkaufing – stockpiling and/or hoarding (adapted from German)

Coronaspeck – extra girth resulting from overeating in confinement

The COVID 19(lbs) (American) – extra body weight accrued during quarantine

Quaz (Australian) – to quarantine (oneself)

Doomscrolling/doomsurfing – obsessively accessing upsetting news online

Coroanacuts – haircuts carried out at home, especially when less than successful

De-roning – attempting to remove traces of coronavirus by cleaning/disinfecting items that have recently entered the home

Zumped –‘dumped’ by a partner via videolink or otherwise online

Ronavation – renovation or refurbishment during lockdown, an Instragram hashtag

Coronacranky – short-tempered as a result of enduring lockdown

Flu bro (American) – a male coronavirus denier, from their assertion ‘It’s just the flu, bro.’

Quarandating (Canadian) – using cellular dating apps to meet people and go on virtual dates through platforms such as FaceTime

Zoombie – someone incapacitated by too much screen time, or a malicious disruptor of a videoconference

Quarantanning – sun bathing or using tanning equipment during confinement

Quaran-stream – binge-watch TV series, movies while enduring lockdown

Smizing – smiling with the eyes, as when wearing a facemask (a term coined by US celebrity Tyra Banks in 2009)

Spendemic – a dramatic increase in online shopping by those confined during the coronavirus crisis

Coronasshole – first applied in March 2020 to US panic buyers, then in June to US citizens refusing to wear masks. In July the synonym #maskhole began to trend on social media

Maskulinity – a macho refusal to wear a face covering

Furlough Merlot – a red wine assuaging the anxiety of lockdown and WFH

How to shift your conference online in light of the coronavirus ...

  1. Homeworking and teleconferencing

WFH, wfh – working from home

Productivity ninja – a stress-free, purposeful and high-achieving worker (title of work by Graham Allcott)

Covidpreneurs (Irish Times) – individuals or businesses succeeding in thriving and innovating  in a pandemic environment

Zoombombing – hijacking and/or interrupting videoconferencing on the Zoom platform

Slackers – remote workers using the Slack groupworking application(s)

Virtual backgrounding** – adjusting one’s visible décor for videoconferencing

Videofurbishing** – enhancing one’s décor prior to videoconferencing

Zoom room – part of one’s home kept clean and inviting for use as videocalling background

Quarantini – a martini mixed and consumed in conditions of confinement

Locktail hour – a time allotted to consumption of cocktails while isolating

Upperwear – clothing selected for display above the waist only

Telecommutercore (Guardian) – casual clothing selected for use when videoconferencing and/or home-based working

Infits – outfits worn in conditions of confinement

Quaransheen** – a shiny nose and/or forehead visible while engaged in videoconferencing

Zoomlift** – the cosmetic surgery supposedly required as soon as obligatory online interaction ends

Coronaviva – an oral examination or thesis defence taken online during lockdown

Quaranteams – groups forming and performing – music or competing in quizzes for example – together virtually during lockdown

Quaranqueens – a woman excelling during lockdown, particularly one excessively cleaning and tidying

Quarantrolls – individuals sending malicious online messages in conditions of and/or referring to quarantine

Quarantunes – music produced and/or performed under lockdown

Quaranzine – a magazine produced under lockdown

Coronalit – literature produced during/inspired by the pandemic

Corona-fi – fiction or science-fiction produced during/inspired by the pandemic

Zoom mullet – a hairstyle developed in lockdown which is ‘camera-ready’ (presentable to a webcam) at front and sides and dishevelled at the rear

#isobaking – home-baking in confinement and/or exchanging recipes: a hashtag on TikTok and Instagram

Zoomitzvah (Jewish Chronicle) – a bar mitzvah celebrated via video app in confinement

Homeference – a virtual conference that participants can attend remotely

Zoomed out – exhausted and/or disoriented after spending too much time in videoconferences

Zoom fatigue – a draining of energy resulting from the unusual stresses involved in interactions in virtual meetings

The wipe-away – the high-visibility handwaving that indicates the person is leaving a virtual meeting

Toxic productivity – the unfair expectation that professionals, creatives and others should be able to stay productive, even achieve more during adverse situations such as the Covid-19 pandemic

Uberise – to emulate Uber in moving to a system whereby employees decide which hours of the day they will plug in under the work from home model during the pandemic.

  1. Demographics

Coronials – The generation born after December 2020 as a result of the enforced quarantining of their parents due to the COVID-19 pandemic

Gen(eration) C – in 2018 designated young ‘connected consumers’, now may refer to young people coming of age since the onset of the coronavirus crisis

Quaranteens – the generation who will become teenagers in 2033 -4

Coronavirus Pandemic: 7 Social Distancing-Friendly Activities To ...

  1. Security measures

Elbump – an elbow contact in place of handshaking or other physical greeting

Coronadodge – swerving to avoid passers-by to comply with distance restrictions

Couple-spreading – couples permitted under regulations to walk together taking up excessive space in public places

Covid waltz – manoeuvring to avoid close contact with passers-by while distance restrictions are in place

Loopholing (South African) – exploiting imprecisions or allowances in distancing restrictions in order to travel

Overreaching – enforcing crisis-related regulations too zealously

Yob-dobbing – reporting someone’s antisocial behaviour to authorities

Ronadobbing (Australian) – informing on those contravening crisis-related restrictions

Coronasnitching ** – informing on those contravening crisis-related restrictions

Covidobbing** – informing on those contravening crisis-related restrictions

Coronagrass** – a person who informs on those contravening crisis-related restrictions

Curtain-twitching – peering at and/or spying on neighbours

Corona-shaming (New York Times) – publicly criticising those, particularly celebrities, who have infringed public health regulations

Masklessness – wearing no face-covering, in US often as a gesture of defiance and/or disbelief in standard pandemic narratives and official advice

Whack-a-mole – a piecemeal response to a major problem, such as ad hoc local lockdowns in the context of a second wave of infection

Cohorting  – imposed grouping of health care workers and others, for example teachers and students working together or prisoners and guards, who are potentially susceptible to viral infection

Covid marshals – officials sent to public locations to enforce new UK social distancing rules from September 2020

Lockdown light  – used in Germany and elsewhere in October 2020 to describe a set of restrictions on movement and behaviour that falls short of a full lockdown

Coronavirus UK latest from Downing Street as death toll passes ...

  1. Inappropriate terms

The China virus

Tsunami

Epicenter (NY)

Herd (UK Government)

Cull (Telegraph)

Supersurge

Plague

Coronacoma (New York Times)

War metaphors – see https://blogs.nottingham.ac.uk/makingsciencepublic/2020/03/17/metaphors-in-the-time-of-coronavirus/

Body count

Take it on the chin (Boris Johnson)

Take one for the team (Stanley Johnson)

Brave fighter

The great leveller

Following the science (UK Government) ***

Green shoots (UK Government advisor)

Blitz spirit

Over interpreting

Lockdown Stasi (Daily Mail)

Perfect storm

Wet market

#Scamdemic, #shamdemic, #Plannedemic, #Coronascam – hashtags used by US conspiracy theorists attempting to discredit orthodox narratives of the pandemic

Invisible mugger (Boris Johnson)

Good British common sense (Boris Johnson)

PPE equipment

Hiding at home

#SecondCummings

World-beating track-and-trace operation (Boris Johnson)

Muzzle

Mutant algorithm (Boris Johnson)

Moonshot (UK Government)

The last chance saloon

  1. Emoji

https://emojipedia.org/coronavirus/

‘You know how Gen Z are using ‘cornteen’ as a playful misspelling of ‘quarantine’? This is now reflected in the emoji spelling 🌽 Ear Of Corn Emojiteen.’

In Spain and Italy the combination 👑🦠 is used, as ‘corona’ is their word for crown

  1. Recently trending terms

Unprecedented

Cataclysm(ic)

Hunker down

Ramp up

Mobilisation

Cabin fever

Stir-crazy

Dark days

Strange days/times

Uncertain times

The new normal

Exit strategy

Bounceback/bounce back

Behind the curve

Calamitous

Infinite present

Snap back

Game changer

Gaslighting

Easing

Hubris

Obfuscation

Evolving

Mandatory

The Before Time(s)

U-turns

Fatigue

Compliance

AI could help with the next pandemic—but not with this one | MIT ...

*Quote: “When some idiot second guesses a specialist, e.g. when a cartoonist pronounces on epidemiology lessons: to stay in your lane you must know your lane”

**These are terms which have been proposed in online discussions but which may not yet have embedded themselves in the national conversation

  *** From forensic linguist Professor Tim Grant; “following the science” There’s no such thing as “the science”. Scientific conclusions are often subtle and slippery. This phrase is being used to avoid responsibility by those taking political decisions. It’s the job of scientists to question, to disagree, to propose alternative explanations, alternative conclusions, to bring to the fore additional evidence that hasn’t been noticed. It’s the job of politicians to weigh this mess of conflictual evidence and make decisions. This decision making is hard and requires taking responsibility. Using “following the science” as cover, is spin doctoring of the worst kind. It’s cowardly, distancing, its-not-my-fault playing politics with this appalling crisis. It’s a failure of political leadership.    

 

Global Outbreak Word Cloud Concept Stock Photo, Picture And ...

It was gratifying in mid-April to see my studies referenced – very informally – in two of the UK’s highest circulation newspapers

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8232123/Covid-19-pandemic-triggers-new-wave-coronaspeak-slang.html

And to talk – very informally again – on the subject on Canadian radio

https://www.cbc.ca/radio/thecurrent/the-current-for-april-22-2020-1.5540906/covidiots-quarantinis-linguist-explains-how-covid-19-has-infected-our-language-1.5540914

More recently Michael Skapinker discussed covid-related language innovation in the Financial Times

https://www.ft.com/content/b7a6b3f0-830b-11ea-b872-8db45d5f6714?fbclid=IwAR3GXQS1esBzN1EZxf2LVgjXAjoZzG4kbqyopdKQ5yj0tWEArzQsWMT89GA

Peter Bakker and his colleagues at the University of Aarhus, Denmark have kindly shared their (not entirely serious) compilation of COVID-related language novelties…

COVIDictionary. Your go-to dictionary in times of Coronavirus and COVID-19

And Alice Moldovan, with input from Howie Manns and me, highlights Anglo-Australian rhyming slang…

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-06-14/miley-cyrus-coronavirus-covid19-cockney-rhyming-slang/12324930

In July 2020 Dutch news site NU.nl featured coronacoinages, with contributions by Ton den Boon and me…

https://www.nu.nl/281763/video/quarantinderen-en-toogviroloog-hoe-corona-de-taal-verrijkte.html

In July 2020 the New Yorker published its own guide to coronaspeak. While the content is amusing, I will not be adding these terms to my glossary until I’m sure they are in circulation among users other than journalists…

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/07/20/lexicon-for-a-pandemic

Although it’s distasteful to someone of my puritan sensibilities, I should also include this link to the Economist‘s guide to pandemic dating jargon…

https://www.economist.com/1843/2020/07/15/pandating-coronavirus-and-the-language-of-love

In  August 2020 one of the first, if not the first, academic studies of COVID-related neologisms appeared, with a very useful multilingual bibliography:

https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/english-today/article/englishbased-coroneologisms/99D6DA8CF3E953D1C3BC4B9EE574EE9C

In October students at UCL London posted a very useful update on COVID-related nicknames and slang:

https://thetab.com/uk/london/2020/10/15/the-quaran-dictionary-all-the-best-and-worst-slang-from-the-pandemic-37521

#CORONASPEAK – the language of Covid-19 goes viral

Latest Advice on Coronavirus (COVID-19) | Bournemouth and Poole ...

In trying to make sense of their new circumstances, under lockdown, in social isolation or distancing, ‘ordinary’ people are at the mercy of, and must come to terms with new language, some of it unfamiliar and difficult to process, some pre-existing but deployed in new ways.

I am using the shorthand #coronaspeak for all the novel expressions that the crisis has generated (US linguist Ben Zimmer coined the alternative ‘coronacoinages’, but my examples are not all new coinages, some are adaptations or existing terms). Phrases such as ‘social distancing’, ‘self-isolation’ have become familiar, even if their meanings are still to some extent contested. But in a society in which, we are told, around 5 million UK citizens cannot even access the internet, how are we to negotiate this rise in ‘lexical load’, this ‘lexical overload’?

I’d like to consider first the ‘medicalisation’ of everyday language: the way in which technical terms from the jargon of sciences and healthcare cross over into popular usage. Some of these words and phrases seem transparent, even if their histories and implications are actually complicated. ‘Social distance’, for instance, was previously employed in sociology and psychology for, in the words of Dr Justin Thomas, ‘how close we are happy to get to members of an outgroup, e.g. would you be happy to marry a [insert outgroup here]’ and many, including the World Health OrganisationWHO –  with hindsight have proposed that ‘social distancing’ (also criticised for being an oxymoron) be replaced by the more literal ‘physical distancing’ in present circumstances. A phrase like ‘test-vacuum’ can seem ambivalent or opaque, but in the current context refers specifically to the failure of the UK authorities to emulate Germany in carrying out mass testing of the population. Even the most basic concepts like testing, tracing are actually very difficult to unpack, especially as the official narrative on these pivots constantly – at times, it seems, deliberately.

There are, unsurprisingly, regional variations in the preferred terminology: quarantine in official and popular usage and shielding in place describing a policy protocol are heard relatively rarely in the UK; cocooning likewise, though it is a central plank in health policy in Ireland. There are also novel and forbidding coinages which at first defy interpretation, even if they describe something otherwise indescribable: I was recently warned against ‘epistemic trespassing’ which means, in the words of one Twitter contact, ‘when some idiot second guesses a specialist, e.g. when a cartoonist pronounces on epidemiology’

Self-isolate or quarantine? Coronavirus terminology explained ...

Some other examples of words which have transitioned into the national conversation, moving from technical or specialist registers into general usage are listed here with comments…

Pathogen – an organism that causes disease, such as bacteria, viruses, parasites, and fungi

Antigen – in immunology a toxin or other foreign substance which induces an immune response in the body, especially the production of antibodies

Viral load – the total amount of viral particles that an individual has inside them and may shed

Respiratory – relating to the organs of the body responsible for breathing. When pronouncing, the word used often to have the stress on the first syllable, but more recently the stress is usually placed on the second (‘pir’)

Ventilation – the use of artificial methods to assist breathing

Proning – requiring intensive care patients to lie on their front to reduce their need for oxygen

Incubation period – the time between being exposed to a virus and becoming aware that one is infected

Intubation – the inserting of an endotracheal tube (ET or ETT) through the mouth and into the airway of a patient to assist breathing: extubation describes its removal

Pandemic – an epidemic – a quickly spreading disease – which has spread very widely and infected a high number of individuals

Vectors (of transmission) – agents such as infected individuals that transmit infectious pathogens into a population

Contact tracing  – identifying, then assessing and monitoring those who have come into contact with an infected individual.

Flatten the curve (popularised to ‘squash the sombrero’) – to slow the spread of a virus, for instance by  social containment measures, so that fewer people need to seek treatment at any given time. The term is epidemiologist jargon, but has been criticised as being a euphemism

PPE – personal protective equipment used to shield the wearer from work-related hazards

Palliate – means to make (a disease or its symptoms) less severe without removing the cause. hence ‘palliative’ care where no cure is possible. Ironically, ‘palliate’ can also mean to disguise the seriousness of (an offence)

Psychoneuroimmunity – the desirable state achieved by way of ‘preventive strategies of healthy lifestyle, regular exercise, balanced nutrition, quality sleep and a strong connection with people’

Furlough(ed) – appearing in English in the 17th century, the word is related to Dutch verlof, leave, and refers to the granting of a paid leave of absence. The term was employed in British military jargon during WW1 but until now was generally considered an Americanism

Mitigation – the reduction of the severity of symptoms

Immunocompromised – having a weakened immune system, hence less able to fight infections and other diseases

Comorbidity – one or more illnesses or diseases suffered by a patient at the same time as a primary condition

Harvesting effect – a temporary increase in the mortality rate when secondary factors such as underlying health conditions add to the number of victims of an epidemic

Patient zero – the first case or the first documented patient in an epidemic

Red zone – a geographical area or location classified as having the highest levels of infected individuals and which should be placed under quarantine

Super-spreader – an infected individual who transmits the infection to a higher than average number of others

Asymptomatic – displaying no symptoms of an infection. Infected individuals who are asymptomatic are sometimes known as ‘silent carriers’. The term began trending again in the light of the second wave in October 2020, sometimes in the variant form asymptomic

Hot spot – a cluster of, or a location showing a concentration of cases of infection

Petri dish  – literally a shallow dish in which biologists culture cells in a laboratory. Now commonly referring to an enclosed environment in which infections can spread unchecked

Cluster effect – the result of concentrations of people at social gatherings, often in public places, enabling an accelerated spread of infection

Shielding – by or for the most vulnerable individuals, this means taking the most stringent measures in order to minimise interaction

Shelter in place – a US security protocol whereby citizens are warned to confine themselves, originally in the event of chemical or radioactive contamination

Crisis triage – emergency short-term assessment and assignment of treatment of individuals suffering from sudden overwhelming medical or psychological symptoms

Peak surge – a term properly used in relation to power surges in electric circuits but used now to describe the maximum level reached in an accelerating increase in cases of infection

Fomite – an inanimate object contaminated with or exposed to infectious agents (such as pathogenic bacteria, viruses or fungi), which can transfer disease to a new host.

Zoonotic diseases – infections which spread from animals or insects to humans, also known as zoonoses

Donning, doffing and disposing – putting on, removing and disposing of PPE (personal protective equipment) in official medical parlance

R rate – R0 (‘r-nought’) is a mathematical gauge of the reproduction rate of a contagious disease

Behavioural fatigue – a supposed reluctance to adhere to social conduct norms, should imposed strictures, such as containment and confinement, continue for too long

Seroprevalence – the number of persons in a population who test positive for a specific disease based on blood tests, a measure of cumulative infection

Anosmia – loss of the sense of smell, and in some cases also taste

Pod – a self-contained unit of confinement such as an isolation pod in a medical facility, a social contact or family pod providing space for personal interaction during quarantine. Bubble is used in the same sense in some settings

Immunity passport – a proposed certificate issued by national authorities confirming that the bearer is free from infection

Non-pharmaceutical Interventions (NPIs)  –  actions, apart from vaccinations and medicine, that people and communities can take to help slow the spread of contagious infections, also known as community mitigation strategies

Aerosol transmission – the spread of infection via tiny, lingering airborne liquid particles rather than by exhaled droplets or fomites (contaminated objects)

Long COVID – the experience of those who have recovered from initial coronavirus infection but continue to suffer from a range of significant symptoms

China fall in coronavirus cases undermined by questionable data ...

I am still appealing for contributions to my lexicon via this site, on Twitter or by email, and will thank and credit contributors where possible. My next posts will look at slang and colloquialisms and newly invented expressions related to Covid-19.

For the terms considered here I am very grateful to, among others, Professor Carmine Pariante, Alan Pulverness, Nigel McLoughlin, Gail Jennings and Julian Walker

There is a comprehensive glossary of coronavirus-related technical terminology, published in Canada and updated weekly:

https://www.btb.termiumplus.gc.ca/publications/covid19-eng.html

I belatedly became aware of the important response by linguists to the pandemic in China, and to the novel concept of emergency linguistics. More details of the role of language in that context can be found here:

Language lessons of COVID-19 and linguistic disaster preparedness

Colleagues at King’s College London are looking beyond the Anglosphere at the ways in which language is used both to react to and to construct the realities of the global crisis:

Worldmaking in the Time of Covid-19

In August 2020 the German army published this comprehensive multilingual glossary of technical and administrative COVID-related terminology:

https://www.bundeswehr.de/de/organisation/personal/organisation-/bundessprachenamt/corona-glossar-in-sieben-sprachen-veroeffentlicht-1104036