Linguistic Reflections of a coronaspeak year

Well, what a year this has been! A year like no other. Where life and even the way we interact changed.

It is inevitable then that many of our authors blogged about the virus, its impact on not only us, but also our language. As Michael Toolan reflects ‘…as with every new phenomenon with the potential to turn our world upside down, our first response, immediate and intimate but with potential to go global, is in our language.’

Words such as lockdown, quarantine (Cambridge Dictionary’s word of the year 2020) and ‘the rona’ have all made their way into every day vocabulary.

As David Crystal reflected, ‘the majority of the neologisms are blends – the combination of parts of two old words to make a new one. Many begin with Cov (covidiot, covideo, covidivorce) or corona (coronanoia, coronaspiracy, coronacation, and, for your self-made haircut, coronacut).’

Let’s hope there’s no record of our coronacuts!

Our language has changed throughout the course of this pandemic. As Betsy Rhymes notes language has ‘gone from the whimsical sharing of quarantinis and quaran-baking to the more ominous spectre of maskholes and the scamdemic… talking our struggles against the pandemic into being’.

Then there are those who use language as Stanley Dubinsky & Michael Gavin state ‘a marker that signals danger and contagion.’

Trump referred to the virus as an “Invisible Enemy” and even “a Chinese Virus”. As Janet McIntosh comments ‘…we have seen his florid playbook at work: anti-PC tough talk; near-gleeful verbal bigotry; theatrical claims and rapid reversals; catchy and chantable hostilities; and a veneer of military grandeur.’

Whilst in the UK, we watched as the Prime Minister and Special Advisor created a story to justify breaking lockdown restrictions, ‘The original aim of the government’s narrative was to justify Cummings’s actions by foregrounding one emotional rationale over another. Okay, so maybe he’d bent the rules ever so slightly with his trip (yes, this was a moral failing on his part), but he did so in order to satisfy a higher moral code: looking after his infant son.’ as Philip Seargeant tells us.

Looking forward though, Florian Coulmas found in his 100 voices project, people hope for truth. ‘This is directed at the willingness of governments honestly to communicate with the public…Yet truth gives us hope.’

So, as we move towards a new year, it is with hope. At the time of writing, a vaccine is being rolled out in the UK. Perhaps the beginning of life getting back to somewhat normal, and coronaspeak, social bubbles and Covid-19 itself being a thing of the past.

The blogs featured here were originally posted as part of our Cambridge Reflections: Covid-19 series, which can be read on our 1584 blog. Betsy Rhymes’ blog ‘The Shared (and Not so Shared!) Language of Covid-19: Our ways with words may be as critical as a vaccine’, can be read here.

English-based coroneologisms: A short survey of our Covid-19-related vocabulary English Today

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