Tuesday, June 15, 2021
HomeCOVID-19A dispatch from the Covid word war

A dispatch from the Covid word war

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IN Covid’s war of the pen, the deployment of new linguistic weaponry is unabated. A number of articles on the pandemic’s lexical ramifications have focused on our shared adoption of a fast-expanding glossary of novel terms, including ‘flatten the curve’, ‘new normal’, ‘super-spreader’, ‘shielding’, ‘vulnerable person’, ‘bubble’, ‘PPE’ and ‘furlough’. But if we’re in a war, we need instead to survey the battlefield for what is and isn’t actually shaping the conflict, for there is more at stake than future Scrabble material.

Strictly speaking, an apology is due. In current parlance the second word of this piece serves as helpful shorthand, yet the seemingly neutral ‘Covid’ concedes ground to the official narrative. I refer not to the legitimate question of whether Covid-19 exists, but rather, assuming it does, to how ‘Covid’ conflates the SARS-COV-2 virus with the Covid-19 disease (‘d’ in ‘Covid’ is for ‘disease’). Since the vast majority of people who have the virus aren’t ‘diseased’ in any symptomatic sense, we need where possible to decouple the two. Easier said than done, and unfortunately, even when done, we find ‘virus’ itself freighted with primeval menace, denoting, as it does, the venom of a snake (from Latin ‘virus’, literally ‘slimy liquid, poison’).

Perhaps acceptance of ‘pandemic’ is another aberration; as with ‘Covid’, however, the alternatives – ‘scamdemic’ and the even clunkier ‘PCRdemic’ – have their drawbacks. There remains scope for a new word or phrase encapsulating the epic fraudulence of ‘the pandemic’ and ‘the global crisis’; something to match, and in importance even exceed, the unmitigated counter-narrative success of ‘Fake News’. Given the monumental scale of damage, perhaps future historians will settle on ‘The Disaster’. By which time, as the Rev Jamie Franklin of ‘Irreverend’ has recently speculated, the word ‘lockdown’ may be a universally toxic term, on a par with ‘apartheid’.     

The calamitously effective misattribution of the word ‘cases’ to all positive test results has, of course, skewed debate from the outset. Only with an obsequiously compliant medical establishment could the Government have got away with this semantic sleight of hand. A doctor has an unwell patient with a serious, terminal or merely curious case of x, y or z; yet here our ‘health experts’ and their bean-counters still are, fifteen months on, blithely elevating doubtfully accurate positive tests of healthy people to the same status. It was as much a linguistic as scientific battle, and has been lost. The same can be said of the prime minister’s equally disreputable and far-reaching use of the definite article in ‘Following the science’.     

Pejorative labels have always been attached to enemy forces, witness the ‘cavalier’ and ‘roundhead’ taunts of the civil wars, the former, in fact, turned by royalists into a badge of honour. ‘Covidiot’, leaving little room for similar annexation, had some purchase in the early stages of the present struggle; happily Derbyshire police and their Peak District drones, among other excessive surveillance activities, helped it fall from view. There is some residual use of the Holocaust-evoking suffix ‘denier’, but mercifully the climate in which Dan Hodges could without compunction repeatedly aim it at his debate opponent, Peter Hitchens, has changed. This is partly owing to the presence of the real thing – or worse, Holocaust-approvers – among the shrill voices presently ranged against the Jewish State. More trivially, ‘Doris’ and ‘Witless’ have been well directed at you-know-who, and in UK Column the spectral presence of Microsoft’s founder amusingly demystified by the ‘Billy Goats’ appellation.

Old insults have been hurled to telling effect. Anyone who has recoiled at the West’s, and specifically Canada’s, precipitous decline towards a police state will have raised a glass of vodka to Polish-born pastor Artur Pawlowski. A mob-handed ‘public health’ and police raid on his church in Calgary, caught on camera, was robustly repulsed with a righteously indignant fusillade of ‘Nazi’, ’Gestapo’ and ‘Communist’ by a man whose origins taught him the true meaning of totalitarianism. His experience, and that of many others, lends weight to the notion that ‘medico-fascism’ and ‘bio-fascism’, terms deservedly growing in impact, are abroad.

‘Anti-vaxxers’, with its double insinuation of scientific and spelling deficiency, has proven tiresomely durable. However, it may finally be losing currency, partly since it’s an indecorous sobriquet for stubborn ethnic minorities. The latter now stand – at least until the ‘surge-vaccinations’ take effect – as a buffer between the unvaccinated and the outright persecution portended by the recrudescent ‘refusenik’. For now, the official term is ‘vaccine-hesitant’, slyly melding bogus paternalism with the imputation of cowardice. The best rebuttal of this term asserts its redundancy and inadequacy alike: I may once have been vaccine-hesitant, but having read the Government’s own data I’m now vaccine-adamant, thank you. I relayed this to the NHS cold-caller who kindly inquired about my vaccine status the other day. She had never heard of the MHRA or its Yellow Card database.

Dr Mike Yeadon has informed us that, in the worst-case scenario, the genetic sequence of variants is 99.7 per cent similar to SARS-COV-2, so an immune person’s system will recognise and deal with them. Hence the search is on, or should be, for a linguistic antidote to ‘variants’ with its limitless lockdown-perpetuating potential.

As for lexical own-goals, the biggest was the scientifically sound but emotive term on which the Government’s initial proportionate response to the outbreak was based. The artfully hysterical, suitably bovine, response of the media to ‘herd immunity’ set the tone for everything which has subsequently happened. Would ‘community immunity’, meaning the same thing, have provoked – or rather, given licence to – the same reaction?

Lockdown protest lingo has featured ‘Shame on you’, all too fitting in the face of heavy-handed policing, while ‘Freedom’, though too generic for some tastes, has proved a resilient rallying cry. ‘Take down the BBC’, riffing on the ‘Take down the CCP’ theme-tune of Steve Bannon’s‘War Room’, has gained warranted traction, as an increasing number of barricaded, blind-twitching corporation employees will attest. Said Trump loyalist is, incidentally, doing yeoman work – as he himself might put it – in opposing ‘coincidences’ to ‘conspiracies’: ‘There are no conspiracies, but there are also no coincidences’ is a regular gnomic refrain.  

Exposing its Soviet propagandist origins may in time help to neuter the insidious ‘misinformation’; for now, prefixing it with ‘Government’ will help, augmented by semantically absurd spin-offs such as ‘borisinformation’ and ‘chrisinformation’. ‘MSM’ has taken firm root, but ‘Old Media’, with its connotation of looming obsolescence, deserves a shout-out. And since the civil wars have been invoked, I look forward to Captain-General Neil ‘Fairfax’ Ferguson and his team at Imperial, the next time they present dubious mortality forecasts, earning the moniker of ‘Old Model Army’.   

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Stuart Major
Stuart Major is an independent scholar based in Sussex.

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