Dr. Abdulkhaliq Alazzawie
Department of Foreign Language
COVID 19 has undoubtedly influenced or even changed existing forms of communication, language, activities and brought with it new actions and new diction. I will elaborate on this cautionary language with examples.
In difficult times, the worst and the best comes out of people, and our language reflects the gamut (range) of human behavior and experience. An example is fear and fear mongering. Naturally, many people are fearful of COVID. What do we know about it? When will there be a vaccine for all? How does it spread? How long will the germs stay alive on a hard surface? How far do the droplets spread?
One result of our fear of this new bug is all the restrictive language that all of a sudden cropped up to become a part of our everyday life: Few spaces in big places (to me, that is saying a lot of people should stay at home.), social distancing, self-isolate, self-isolation, social distance, stay at home, keep your distance. This is in addition to all the medical advice being doled out by professionals and the average Joe parroting the medical advisors. Wash your hands. Get lots of sleep. Take your vitamins. Clean your cell phone. Don't touch any door handles or elevator buttons or ABM keypads unless you are wearing gloves. Don't touch your eyes, nose, or mouth. Keep your hands away from your face. Wear a mask. Wear some gloves. Stay at home. Stay safe. Don't come here (to the Island or the resort or the cottage country, etc.) on the long weekend/holiday, etc.
To workers, PPE - Personal Protective Equipment. I think that term has been around for a long time, but most people outside of the healthcare industry probably have never heard of it before - certainly are not used to hearing about it at all, let alone day after day. Day after day, we get all this repetition. For example, my alumni union sends me lots of stuff about COVID and protecting students and faculty and staff on campus.
Newspapers and the news on TV or the radio report the truth of course, but the media also often exploits disasters through exaggeration and fear mongering diction in order to sensationalize the current instigator of all the trouble - the Coronavirus in this case - to create "drama" and stir up interest for the purpose of raising their "ratings" or readership/customer base and selling newspapers and magazines. These are the projected numbers (the "models'' or "modelling") of how many people could die of the Coronavirus. Maybe, we do need to hear the daily death tolls locally and globally, but do we really need to hear about a possible worst-case scenario that is unlikely to happen in our country? A second wave or a third could hit in the Spring, and it could be worse than the first. Do we know if the third second wave/strain/variant would be worse than the second or the first? No, we don't. So why say it?
What about the stock market situation? Its volatility, as of late, has some people thinking they should uninvest and hide their money under their mattress. The stock market situation has created a lot of worry. How have your stocks been doing? Mine went down about 9% and yesterday my wife, Christine, came downstairs and said: "You have to buy stocks when they're low Joe and sell them when they're high" - the most basic, no-knowledge comment EVER!!! Yes, it has created worry, stress, and edginess within an individual and even between couples. “Save your money, Harry.”
At some point, people had taken up a lot of baking in Canada and elsewhere. Stores were running out of flour or baking soda, not just cleaning supplies or toilet paper or hand sanitizer. Yes, talk about gluttony .... hoarding, shortages, run out of this or that. And, there is the language to counter the hoarding. Don't panic. Supplies will come in each day. Early morning hours are set aside for seniors to shop before everyone else; the problem is they probably can't or don't get there at 8 AM. Those are the hours offered because seniors probably can get supplies before the store runs out.
Counter to all this negativityis the positive language that has flourished to entertain, humor, cheer up, offer aid and support, and express care and love to loved ones, neighbors, students, friends, and/or the community at large. Part of caring is worry, and thus some worrisome language has reared its head. Food banks are a big concern for “the most vulnerable". The homeless are another "at high risk" contingent of the population. People are getting resourceful and creative in the lull of "downtime" and doing all kinds of things to raise money/get donations for "causes" and "charity". Even big-name celebrity musicians and singers are collaborating in online performances to raise money. Centenarian Captain Tom in England walked with his walker. A fellow in Chilliwack, B.C., Canada, shaved off all his hair and encouraged others to participate in this online challenge to raise money. Comedians, as well as regular people, have been making funny videos. Singers and/or musicians have been singing/playing songs or writing their own songs to sing or play, and sometimes changing the lyrics of well-known songs to funny lyrics to make people laugh. Loved ones, unable to visit their elderly mom or dad, grandma or grandpa, aunt or uncle in a care home, have been standing outside the homes, holding up signs to communicate to their elders standing inside at the window: We love you. We miss you Grandma/Grandpa in an attempt to connect with them and show them that they care and love them.
So, there's been lots of encouraging talk and many people have gone on the internet to entertain bored people staying at home a lot or to cheer them up. They have been singing and playing instruments outdoors and indoors and making funny videos, dancing, etc.
Sometime back, when the hospital shift changes at 7 pm, in many cities and places all around the Lower Mainland in BC, Canada (following Italy, I think), people blew whistle, banged on pots and pans, honked (blew horns), made noise, so hospital staff could hear them - a new event that has arisen to show gratitude to the healthcare and front line workers.
Language of caution could involve health advice, which affects your daily routines or habits and behaviors. Doctors and medical staff have never been so popular, appreciated, and listened to since WWII. We've been hearing a lot of sentimental/corny stuff. Dr. Bonnie Henry of BC, Canada, has become famous in that province with her and Adrian Dix's daily COVID update. Her words of wisdom, kindness, and encouragement ring out every day on the news (the daily update on COVID-19) with such purposeful statements like: Be calm. Be patient. Be safe. Be kind. We will get through this together. Everyone must do their part. Keep our firewall strong. Protect our community. Inform our thinking. Stay home if you’re sick. Stay strong. We continue to bend our curve down. And, children, this isn’t forever.