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Thread: Banished Words: The Language of the Pandemic

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    Banished Words: The Language of the Pandemic

    Banished Words: The Language of the Pandemic


    All right, at the risk of fraying the already threadbare nerves of our fellow LitNetters, yours fooly would like to take a moment to offer the following preface.

    Yes, as everyone else, I applaud the nearly-supernatural courage of health care providers in the process of treating the onslaught of patients during this pandemic. Additionally, we must acknowledge the grocery store workers, food delivery people, postal workers and all of those who are continuing to provide essential services.

    Hardly a time to quibble about language, am I right? But — one could argue that misunderstandings and mistakes have infested public statements and private interpretations, which, one could argue, may have been factors leading to the frightening place in which we now find ourselves .

    As posited by this article, “words matter.”

    Perhaps we’d like to retire some of the words and phrases flying around in recent weeks, such as:

    “Flattening the curve” (Though we aspire to the ideal.)
    “Social distancing” (Keep the practice; lose the term. After one hears it over and over, it loses its initial urgency.)
    “How are you holding up?” Holding up what? The line? A wall? A simple “How are you?” will suffice.

    Some pleonasms could go include:
    “self-isolate”
    “drink fluids.”

    Finally, it’s bad enough we have to assume that our family, friends, and neighbors may be carrying the virus as if they were unwitting Typhoid Marys, without having officials talk down to us.

    We’re adults. We can take it. If we can survive a pandemic, we certainly can survive “big” words such as “transmit” and “pathogen.”

    All right?

    Say safe, everybody!


    https://apnews.com/d7b3035038a786d4aaed35e9b672a9d2

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    And by the bye, do you know what we're living in?

    "Challenging times."

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    MANICHAEAN MANICHAEAN's Avatar
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    Very interesting piece Aunty. I suppose for Lit Netters that we are almost akin a zealot sect where words are the tools of our trade; and we do, (or should), lay particular emphasis on their usage and effectiveness.

    I personally have no qualms about hearing words like “death.” In fact, I find the whole inevitable prospect rather interesting, whether during this pandemic or later. But for the more sensitively attuned I suppose our relative government spokespersons have to sugar coat it a bit and gently whisper about persons having “passed away” and “mortality rates.”

    Approach is also important. The Brits seem comfortable with cold adverse facts thrown at them like bleeding chunks of meat; as could be noted in the last war e.g. “We will fight them on the beaches, streets …...”

    From numerous posts I get from friends in the Philippines the opposite use of words might be more beneficial. They have a tendency there of overt fear and panic. Reversion then sets into a “end is nigh” scenario and relentlessly quotes of rather dismal sections of Scripture.

    Finally, you rightly note how words or phrases can lose their potency from constant repetition. Any suggestions? Take the word “death” again. There are a variety of alternatives: extinction, demise, departed, passed on, met His Maker, been called, in another place etc.

    The challenge I think lies in applying them to a multitude of different national and social backgrounds, where the basics of an appreciation of language is not always attained.

    In the meantime, I share with you a rather controversial and misunderstood quote from a former British ambassador to Americans at a time of crisis to “Keep their peckers up!!”

    Best wishes
    M.

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    duplicate post

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    "personally have no qualms about hearing words like “death.” In fact, I find the whole inevitable prospect rather interesting, whether during this pandemic or later. But for the more sensitively attuned I suppose our relative government spokespersons have to sugar coat it a bit and gently whisper about persons having “passed away” and “mortality rates.”
    You are correct ( or should I use the popular phrase "absolutely correct"?) I've noticed folks even drop the "away," as in "Granny passed." When one hears that, it's difficult not to expect the next word to be "gas."

    Seriously though, just as Jill Lepore did a much more thorough job of surveying pandemic literature than yours fooly, the editor of the New Yorker. David Remnick, summed up the language issues most succinctly:

    Misinformation and cant, along with a kindred scorn of science and professional expertise: these things are pathogens, too. Counterfeit facts can polarize, alienate, disaffect, rouse misdirected rage, and foment social division. They have come at a cost to our civility; at a time of pandemic, especially, they also come at a cost to human lives."

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    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    I think some of the current trite expressions (like "social distancing") are probably effective at promoting those behaviors they describe. People like jargon. They like being up-to-date. If that's the case, what's wrong with these expressions?

    "Drink fluids" is redundant, although it may express the notion that one fluid "hydrates" as well as another. (I dislike "hydrate" instead of "drink" more than I dislike "drink fluids". It's more pretentious.)

    As an atheist, I prefer "death" to some of the euphemisms that replace it. "Pass on" is not an exact synonym, however. It implies a particular (and religious) view of death, and some sort of belief in the eternity of the soul. Religious people may want to fly their colors.

    Regarding David Remnick's screed: what are "counterfeit facts"? Are they Remnick's equivalent of "fake news"? Or are they, more simply, "lies"?

    I've been hoping that "social isolation" might revitalize LitNet, although that has yet to "transpire".

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ecurb View Post
    I think some of the current trite expressions (like "social distancing") are probably effective at promoting those behaviors they describe. People like jargon. They like being up-to-date. If that's the case, what's wrong with these expressions?

    "Drink fluids" is redundant, although it may express the notion that one fluid "hydrates" as well as another. (I dislike "hydrate" instead of "drink" more than I dislike "drink fluids". It's more pretentious.)

    As an atheist, I prefer "death" to some of the euphemisms that replace it. "Pass on" is not an exact synonym, however. It implies a particular (and religious) view of death, and some sort of belief in the eternity of the soul. Religious people may want to fly their colors.

    Regarding David Remnick's screed: what are "counterfeit facts"? Are they Remnick's equivalent of "fake news"? Or are they, more simply, "lies"?

    I've been hoping that "social isolation" might revitalize LitNet, although that has yet to "transpire".
    Excellent reply!

    "Counterfeit facts" could be a cognate of "alternate facts." Remember that one? I'm still trying to wrap my mind around Rudy G's statement from a few months back: "Truth isn't the truth."

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