A devilish dictionary of pandemic clichés
Late last year, Lake Superior State University released its banned words from 2021. It’s an annual tradition, though it has no effect on those who use those words, especially those who use them. social networks like Twitter.
In the same spirit of futile resistance to bad English, I offer my own list of terms we should ban from coverage of the current pandemic. Some of these clichés are euphemisms – distinguished terms for ugly realities.
Others are borrowed from other fields of activity – politics, sport, war – to inject energy into the discussion. And the most recent pandemic clichés might be called “conditions of surrender,” words and phrases that downplay COVID-19 and prepare us to accept it as another inevitability, like death and taxes.
When we hear these sound clips, we must submit them to translation, because they tell us something about our attitudes and our anxieties. And they, in turn, help explain why we are now in year three of COVID-19.
Provincial health officer Dr Bonnie Henry’s euphemism for ‘what is currently beating the light of day for us’ and ‘we are struggling to keep our story straight’.
Latin condoleo, “I feel the pain of another.” Health Minister Adrian Dix’s condolences, however, appear to be mass-produced after being extended to family and friends of more than 2,500 British Columbians who have died.
This word is used to camouflage COVID-19 as another tolerable annoyance, like the common cold. As virologist Aris Katzourakis explained in Nature recently, “an endemic infection is one in which overall rates are static – neither rising nor falling”.
An endemic disease can paralyze not only countries but also continents. According to the World Health Organization, malaria in 2020 infected 241 million people and killed 627,000, most of whom were African children under the age of five. Measles is also endemic and killed 140,000 people in 2018. The WHO estimates that the measles vaccine has saved more than 23 million lives this century. But it could once again become both endemic and deadly in North America if anti-vaxxers stick to their guns.
follow the science
Said by politicians as they shift blame to scientists, who get criticized if science is unpopular. Unfortunately, the science continues to evolve, and scientists themselves often debate bitterly both what the virus is and how best to combat it.
A term now embraced with fervor by “Freedom Convoy” truckers and others opposed to evil warrants. Sure, truckers aren’t free to run off the freeway or break speed limits, but they seem comfortable on the asphalt and eager to be free to import the latest COVID strain from the United States. United.
Borrowed from sport, where it makes sense. In the pandemic, he offers the usually false promise of a quick end to COVID-19 through a vaccine or a drug.
Adopted from a 1944 film, the word means to trick someone into doubting their own sanity. “Lie” would do just as well.
In the hospital with COVID
This way of minimizing the pandemic is so subtle that it can fly by. This is the difference between saying “with COVID” and “for COVID”. Hospitals are again crowded with patients needing care for severe cases of COVID. But the transmission of Omicron among vaccinees means services are now also seeing routine cases – heart attacks, broken legs – who test positive for the disease and may show few or no symptoms. So the people in the hospital with COVID and other issues seem less serious than those in the hospital for COVID alone. But even an asymptomatic case can cause a hospital outbreak.
Learn to live with
He was a political favorite at the start of the pandemic, with “herd immunity” and “we are all in this together”. Now that politicians are pretty sure they’re out of the game with the rest of us, they’re starting to see the pandemic as a nuisance, not an existential threat to themselves.
“Living with COVID-19” will mean accepting shorter life expectancies and slightly higher pay for supermarket workers. Recruitment and retention of health care workers will be an issue easily postponed until after the next election. With COVID-19 largely confined to working class and racialized communities, governments will be happy and relieved to learn how to live without the virus.
Originally, this meant locking prisoners in their cells during a disturbance or search. Then it was applied to American schools subjected to mass shootings. Now the media calls it a lockdown when governments impose minor restrictions on entire cities and nations, implying that all civilians are prisoners or, at best, children to be protected for their own good. It has fueled protests everywhere but China – which is really locking down cities and provinces.
Chinese dynasties fall when they lose the Mandate of Heaven. Newly elected Canadian politicians readily accept the voters’ mandate as a command to carry out their party’s platform. But a vaccine mandate has become a term of tyranny, even when imposed by a democratically elected government.
Widely used in tobacco advertising in the 1950s, when the link between tobacco and cancer was established, the “mild” is experiencing a strong comeback since the appearance of the Omicron strain in November. Someone noticed that Omicron’s cases weren’t as bad as Delta’s, didn’t lead to as many hospitalizations, and didn’t kill as many people (at least if they were vaccinated). Never mind that he infected so many people that hospitals were always overwhelmed and he killed the unvaccinated like Delta did. At least (as Andrew Nikiforuk satirically noted) these were benign deaths.
Republican governors and some conservative prime ministers use this phrase to offload public health onto the individual. Do you vaccinate or not, man; it’s your call. Of course, if you are responsible, you are supposed to answer for your actions. In this case, no one is responsible for the spread of COVID-19.
Policy experts use this word to refer to a sudden change in policy adopted when the old policy failed. We now apply it when politicians and public health officials reverse: You don’t need a mask / A mask is essential.
Conditioned to worry when the number of cases climbs, we relax when they hit a plateau – even if it is a very high plateau, with thousands of daily cases.
Responding to any threat, those involved begin racing for a real or imagined prize to the finish line. Even respected scientific journals like Nature use the term. In some cases, the word may be justified, but let’s assume no one is hanging around finding a cure for COVID-19.
It’s striking that a fictional cure for a fictional threat (werewolves) takes on new life as a weapon against a real disease. But as Justin Trudeau and others keep reminding us, we still haven’t found that weapon.
Turn the corner
Make some kind of progress; intended to encourage the public without offering much evidence.
This term was coined to distinguish the irrationally cautious from foaming anti-vaxers. Virtually all North American adults have been immunized against measles, mumps, rubella, poliomyelitis, whooping cough and a host of other diseases before entering first grade. This makes hesitation difficult to explain.
This is my list. Add your own
Dear readers, you are welcome to add your own snapshots of the pandemic in the comments section below. Consider it a collective effort to keep perspective as people with megaphones and agendas try to manipulate what we think about the pandemic and what is being done about it.
Most of us get our health information online, and a lot of information online is for clickbait, headlines that promise some kind of emotional jolt. It doesn’t matter if the jolt is unwarranted good or bad news, and it doesn’t matter if the reader studies the report critically or skims through it before setting off in search of new jolts. So it’s easy to trust reports that align with our overall impression of a problem, and ignore others. This is how fake news wins over believers, and this is how the “Freedom Convoys” get organized.
It is therefore up to us to take real personal responsibility for obtaining our information from the most scientifically reliable sources possible. If these sources disagree because the science is new, then we can withhold judgment until more evidence is available. When we have this evidence, we can demand policies that will mitigate the pandemic for as many people as possible, not just people like us. .
And in the meantime, we should behave as if the worst-case scenario is about to hit us. Anything less bad will seem positively sweet.