The Language of Lockdown.
One of the things I have noted during this lockdown is how it is influencing our use of language. Some words, like “lockdown” itself even, or “quarantine“, or “pandemic” have stepped to the forefront of everyday language when they were formerly rarely used. In other cases, words have been put together in a new way to name the actions or situations new to us. “Self-isolate”, “shielding”, “social distancing” or “support bubble” come to mind.
And I have learnt some new words too: “furlough” is an example. This word has been around since the early seventeenth century and comes from the Dutch word vorloffe, meaning permission literally, or “leave of absence,” especially in military use. It was also applied to conditional temporary releases of prisoners for the purpose of going to jobs (work-release). But with Covid it acquired a new nuance with the government’s furlough scheme.
In some cases, words and phrases seem to reflect a new way of seeing things that Covid has brought about. I am thinking of the terms “non-essential retail“ and “keyworker“. In the first case, it seems like a slap in the face of the excessive materialism that is part of our everyday lives and media. And what about those people whose career is now defined as pointlessly needless? What must this do to their self-esteem when someone asks them what they do for a living and they must reply: “I am a non-essential retailer”? Compare these unfortunates to those whose vocations are not simply essential, they are the very key to our existence. Perhaps this is a new leveller of social inequality? It doesn’t matter how high class you may be as a purveyor of the finest quality luxury merchandise; you are still unnecessary now. So this means that Bertram Burnley, jewelers by royal appointment since 1825, is now completely superfluous, whereas Chelsea Noakes, who works down the Co-op at weekends, is pivotal to the very survival of our species.
I’d say that was Chelsea one, Burnley nil.