How Covid has shaped the language of 2020

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How Covid has shaped the language of 2020

The language we use shifts a little every year. Never more so than during great times of change, like war, or say, a global pandemic.

Politicians now address us on a daily basis, rarely missing the opportunity to talk about the ‘new normal’.

As the pandemic first spread across the globe with more momentum than anyone could have predicted, it became a challenge to find a word more fitting than ‘unprecedented’. These are the times we are living in, and for the sake of history let’s throw in ‘uncharted waters’.

While arguments played out over whether Australia and world should aim for ‘herd immunity’, ‘elimination’ or ‘suppression’, the politicians and media began to craft a new language of Covid.

Here in Australia we quickly adapted to paying extra attention to our own ‘hygiene’. Common phrases such as hand sanitiser, wash your hands, wear a mask, use a bent elbow to sneeze or cough and fist bump quickly entered the everyday phrasebook. We now recite them to each other on a daily, possibly even hourly basis, but probably don’t even realise we are doing it.

And let’s not forget the heady days of ‘panic buying’, ‘stockpiling’, and ‘rationing’. Even ‘toilet paper’ found a new place in history while the ‘supermarket’ became the new social outing.

We easily transitioned to life in lockdown and isolation with the addition of quarantine, hotel and self as we tried desperately to ‘flatten the curve’. Finding new ways to entertain ourselves, the jigsaw puzzle discovered a new wave of popularity while many of us went back to the simplicity of growing indoor plants.

A second wave diminished the hopes of many looking forward to ‘new-found freedom’, no matter how different the new normal looked. New words gained notoriety ‘outbreak’, ‘cluster’ and we will never forget how ‘contact-tracing’ became our ‘key to freedom’ along with ‘Covid-safe’.

Over the past few months we have learnt to live alongside the virus, our humour returning, and in true-blue Aussie fashion we have put our own slant on commonly used words. Dropping letters, using slang to dub the virus ‘rona’ and let’s not forget ‘iso’. While we’re at it, throw in ‘pando’, after all if you don’t laugh, you will cry.

As 2020 draws to an end, and we close a chapter on one of the toughest years in living history, the Macquarie Dictionary’s word of the year will have no shortage of contenders. In what will become known as the year that ‘we are all in this together’, I just hope singer Ben Lee is raking in the royalties, after all he may just be the modern Nostradamus.

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