Carol Perry: Use of the lingo has been robust

Is it just me or is everyone suddenly an armchair epidemiologist? Are you finding the previously terminologically challenged people in your life are now discussing gain of function research or the lab leak hypothesis as if they had been working in public health all their lives? After all, everything about SarsCov2 is "settled science."
Well, it's a novel virus that has never been seen before so no but your neighbor might beg to differ. As with anything new that impacts the majority, a plethora of new words, terms, catchphrases and memes will always follow and this pandemic is no exception. If anything, the coronavirus has created its own unique form of snobbery.
I know I am guilty of wincing when someone mistakenly uses the word quarantine when they mean isolation because I took an online course in contact tracing but I don't think I'm qualified to render expert opinion based on listening to a few podcasts of "this week in virology.”
Still I have caught myself prattling on about the genomic sequencing of RNA viruses as if I actually had an advanced degree in virology. Epidemiologist is not a “fake it ‘til you make it” profession so perhaps I should stay in my lane.
As a person who worked in financial services for years, I am familiar with trade speak. Financial planners have been using annoying business jargon to wow customers into thinking we actually knew what we were talking about for years. We would whip out anacronyms that sounded impressive and dazzle with our nuances of candlestick charts.
We sounded highly educated with ROI (return on investment) or KPI (key performance indicator) when in fact few financial advisers actually used these indicators in practice.
Just like today, certain buzzwords were common but some were more annoying than others. For me the winner for most annoying was "robust,” now a pandemic crossover. I would cringe and turn down the TV volume when hearing another talking head on CNBC droning on about robust growth in the second quarter. I was being triggered but did not know this at the time as woke speak was still in the early stages of development.
Today my vote for most annoying financial buzzword goes to "disrupter.” I'm not sure why you would refer to a new and useful idea as disruptive, it could be buzzword drift, my definition of when a buzzword crosses into another subject matter jurisdiction. Disrupter sounds a bit more like superhero lingo. "The Disrupter vs Iron Man,” that sounds pretty awesome.
Since we no longer have to worry about the basics of survival like our ancestors did, we have more time on our hands, so why let a pandemic go to waste when we can invent a new lingo and behaviors to annoy one another?
Before Sarscov2, most people did not know the difference between an epidemic and a pandemic. Why would anyone outside of public health need to know? Now corona-speak filters into even the most mundane of conversations.
I hear all about flattening the curve, fomites, variants, cold chains, spikes (not to be mistaken for spike proteins) waves and monoclonal antibodies from people I called just for a recipe. It's not just day to day casual conversation being corrupted by a virus either, there are words and phrases in the work place that have gone past annoying and are now "fingernails on a chalk board" when heard in Zoom meetings.
I have some favorites but I asked around to discover other's top pandemic buzz words and pet peeves. Here are the results of my survey. Disclosure: I did not use a control group to measure levels of annoyance.
My brother voted for "unprecedented" formerly known as "uncharted waters" in the financial crisis. Coming in at number 1, some said "uncertain times" could be substituted as the use of unprecedented has reached epidemic proportions. My sister-in-law cringes at pivot, her neighbor hates hearing "nimble" while others that rounded out the list were challenging, new normal, agile, socially distant, fluid, shut down or lock down, essential worker ( anyone with a job that cannot be done online) and hero.
There are real heroes in this pandemic but should your weed delivery guy really be in this category? Some words previously viewed as neutral are now crossovers into the pandemic vernacular. Words like human, sequence, amid and its cousin amidst can be cringeworthy in certain contexts and don't get me started on acronyms like PPE and N95 that no one outside a hospital knew before SarsCov2 but are now as familiar as TP is to a layman.
There are also pandemic rules that we have adopted that are irrational and irritating. At screenings, asking a person if they have traveled out of the country recently when it’s almost impossible to get out of the state, much less the country right now tops a friend's list. Elbow bumping, masks with moral or political messaging, the arrows in stores informing us which way to walk down each isle, plexiglass barriers, wearing masks outside when no one is around or when you are driving alone in a car and overpackaging of products are nonsensically common place. Getting a box from Amazon is now like opening Russian nesting dolls. I need the jaws of life just to get my Flonase out of it's packaging.
Also irrational is the fact that even though COVID-19 surface transmission is minimal, we were forced to abandon bringing our own bags to stores as if they were mobile virus incubators and what's with all the hand sanitizers everywhere in stores providing a false sense of security. I guess our behaviors as well as our vernacular are reflective of our current social reality.
Before COVID-19 showed up, some people were just getting familiar with the politically correct world of woke speak so learning to navigate a new verbal landscape so soon was challenging. Just a year ago we were all nodding our heads at social justice T-shirt slogans and hash tags when secretly we were not really sure what cis gendered actually meant. Intersectionality was not about who goes first at a stop sign but you dare not admit that out loud much less post your ignorance on a social media platform. Now you may feel you should know what the H and N stands for when referring to flu strains lest you get stink eye from your pharmacist. What a difference a year made.
The adoption of pandemic speak has evolved almost as quickly as the virus itself but with infection rates falling as vaccination rates rise, a new " thing" will emerge along with its jargon.
I have to wonder if I will ever again be able to dazzle clients just with my analysis of an earnings report or will I have to throw in some data about ring fencing outbreaks to keep my audience riveted. I bet some of you have some pandemic pet peeves too. Just make sure when you are voicing them, you are 6 feet apart.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment