GUEST COLUMN: Pondering our new ‘COVocabulary’

A health-care worker speaks to a motorist lined up to get a COVID-19 test at the Twin Bridges Nurse Practitioner-Led Clinic drive-through testing centre this summer. Journal photo

Susan MacFarlane

If someone asked me in 2015 where I pictured myself in five years, it certainly wouldn’t have included a mask or hand sanitizer. Nope, not even remotely on my radar.

Sure, people talked about the possibility of a global pandemic and since the beginning of the century we’ve had SARS, H1N1 and Ebola, but COVID-19 really has hit the ball out of the park in terms of pandemics.

It is still unbelievable to me how this virus has impacted our economy. In those first few months we had no shopping therapy and no sports therapy either. Live music and theatre went silent. Planes were grounded. Hotels went empty. They even shut down Disney World.

I have to admit I felt like a rebellious teenager when I heard our politicians tell us to only go out once a week for supplies. I would really describe that time as surreal. The Internet was certainly not helping to calm our nerves. If nothing else, COVID taught us that we need to listen to scientists but only certain scientists. We also learned that we all like touching our face way too much.

One morning I was on the phone with a prepper friend of mine. She was bragging that her family was stocked up on enough canned goods and supplies to last months and even years. She claimed she could remain in isolation as long as it took to see out this pandemic. I ran into her that afternoon at the supermarket buying a Snickers Bar. I’m still laughing about that.

We even got a whole new vocabulary out of COVID. Think of all the new phrases we added to the English language. It started with “social distancing,” a non-pharmaceutical intervention to prevent the spread of COVID. We got it – stay 6 feet away from everyone. This was soon replaced by “physical distancing” ‘cause we all need to be social, don’t we?

They told us to greet people with an “elbow bump” and birthday parties were being replaced by “birthday parades.” For those who missed hugging people we were allowed a “social circle” and for those that missed dinner parties we got to make a “double bubble.” As patios and restaurants opened up, we learned about “mask etiquette.” Did you know a “cohort” is an ancient Roman military unit? Now it’s a COVID-style classroom.

As I ponder COVID and its impact, I concur that there have always been certain people I wanted to stay 6 feet away from. However, as we move through this busy world it can be challenging to keep that 6-foot distance. It reminds me of learning how to use a compass and protractor in grade school. This new “COVocabulary” also reminds me of being back in school.

Good thing school doesn’t last forever.

Susan MacFarlane is an environmental engineer who dabbles in screenwriting and other artistic endeavours.