SUPPOSEDLY the first casualty of war is truth. Often this is done through linguistics. Warfare is often when the most benign-sounding, but actually most grotesque, euphemisms are coined. Friendly fire (don’t mind if I do!), enhanced interrogation (who doesn’t love progress?), smart bombs (must have been to Oxbridge), pacification (is that like a spa visit?), collateral damage (whoops!). The list goes on.
It was recently astutely noted in these pages how Generalissimo Johnson and his healthcare junta have created a whole lexicon of bizarre phrases and have hollowed out the definitions of old ones. With their rush to embrace the metaphor of warfare with regard to Covid-19, it is hardly surprising that truth has so quickly bitten the dust.
Were someone with the antiquated vocabulary of 2019 to read this year’s news, much would undoubtedly go over his or her head. This is testament to the ever-expanding list of euphemistic babble we have come to accept, and the linguistic virus infecting our mother tongue.
Of course, it has all been necessary. All to Stop the Spread and to Protect Our NHS. Or was it to Squash the Sombrero?
Now, if you are to venture outside – perhaps via an air bridge or a travel corridor – it must be only to a Covid-secure location (did I miss all the cold and flu-secure locations last year?). Unless you want to become a Covidiot, you will naturally have been vaccinated and will be carrying your freedom pass. Or rather your immunity passport (‘Papers, please!’). Otherwise, how could you know whether you’re an asymptomatic carrier or not?
You see, it’s all part of the new normal. We can’t risk herd immunity (formerly known as relying on our highly evolved immune systems), lest someone unknowingly be a super spreader and undo our good work. We couldn’t risk that: not when we need to Clap For Our Carers every night. But remember Hands Face Space when you do! This is all necessary so we can Build Back Better afterwards, remember. Oh, nobody asked you about that? Never mind.
Anyway, when we are finally allowed to make contact with our support bubble (‘friends and family’? How quaint!) we have to cherish these moments. Elbow-bumps all round. Maybe it could be in a visiting pod. Behind a visor. Masked-up too. Ideally in the park even though it’s lashing down with rain. No alcohol, of course – too risky. Just a dollop of sanitiser.
See, if you don’t there’ll have to be another firebreak. Or was it a circuit-breaker? It doesn’t matter. Only a few weeks to flatten the curve. All because you went to a super spreader event.
Anyway, it’s okay now, we have Nightingales to deal with such problems. What’s that you say, they’re empty? Well, everyone must be socially distancing effectively then. Thank Johnson! Unless they’re Eating Out To Help Out. After all, we all need a substantial meal from time to time. However make sure it’s before 10pm: that’s when Covid starts its night shift.
Naturally, the government have been shielding too. As we are forced into lockdown (formerly known as ‘house arrest’), they shield themselves with endless infantile and insulting euphemisms. All essential in avoiding the responsibility for their catastrophic actions.
Were the government to speak plainly it would be all too clear that their measures are unjustifiable. One cannot ‘wage war’ against a virus. One cannot prevent death. A life worth living entails risk.
The flooding of public life with these idiotic neologisms is only matched by the desperate attempts to shoehorn Covid-19 into various awkward, ill-fitting metaphors. Warfare is the obvious one. We’ve also had ‘mountain climbers’ (Johnson: ‘You have very few options on the climb up – but it’s on the descent you have to make sure you don’t run too fast, lose control and stumble’), and ‘football’ (Van-Tam: ‘You haven’t won the cup yet, but what it [the vaccine] does is, it tells you that the goalkeeper can be beaten.’).
Thank goodness they can make it so plain for us simpletons. Though I’m sure it hasn’t always been like this. One finds it hard to imagine in 1939, as we stood against the Third Reich, that Churchill would have invoked footy to bolster the spirits of the plucky British bulldog: ‘You see, the German squad has a very nasty manager – some horrible chap called Adolf. They’ve got great strikers, but if we can get the ball in their penalty area by jingo we stand a chance! After all, these D-Day landings are just like a free kick.’
Nevertheless, this is not to say linguistic innovations are by necessity bad. I never bought into that school of thought. There are undoubtedly occasions when strange times provide valuable new words and phrases.
One in particular comes to mind. It was coined during the Vietnam War. It seems perfectly apt for where we find ourselves at the end of 2020: (with apologies for the coarse language) Clusterf**k.