Covid Is Screwing With The Way We Hear Words
Every year the Oxford English Dictionary adds new word entries.
Like, hundreds of them.
This doesn’t necessarily mean new new words, but rather additional meanings to existing ones. Take the word “bell”, for example. The OED took the violent route and added this definition: “to knock (also beat, kick, etc.) — bells out of (with — as a variable number): to beat or thrash severely. Also (similarly): to scare.” I don’t know why they stopped there. Were “to tar and feather” and “pummeling the shit out of one’s scapula” unavailable?
Words evolve based on usage, which is influenced by circumstances. In the last two years, there hasn’t been a greater influential event than the pandemic. We’ve pretty much modified every aspect of our lives, including how we absorb and respond to words. No matter the context, when you hear the word “distance”, it’s hard not to immediately associate it with “social distancing,” a reminder that whatever course Covid takes during our lifetime, the way we process language will be forever changed.
With that, let’s take a look at how Covid has changed the way we hear words, focusing on these examples.
You are the biggest winner, you lucky son-of-a-bitch, you. Since 1000 BCE, you’ve chilled with your Greek letter neighbors, only summoned from your alphabet couch here and there to represent the names of fraternities and sororities. Now you're the world's largest lexionic star whose name people can't utter enough. Today, when we hear “Omicron,” we don’t think of Alpha Omicron Pi’s spring formal, but Covid’s most contagious variant.
Speaking of variant…
Remember when no one used the word variant in a sentence because its synonyms--alternative, revision, and modification--were more accessible by our brains? Oh, how the times have changed.
If you’re part of the craft beer community, then you’re familiar with Goose Island’s Bourbon County Stout series. Every Black Friday, beer people line up at 4am to pawn off their least favorite child for a limited release bottle. These are known as the Bourbon County Stout variants, and for the most part, they’re consistently good.
Well, in the fall of 2021, right around the release of Bourbon County Stout, Delta became the first scare-us-shitless variant. Instead of getting excited about the Bourbon County Reserve Blanton’s Stout--barreled in Blanton’s Original Single Barrel Bourbon barrels for 18 months--I could only focus on…death.
Unlike Omicron, Delta was sort of a household name, as in Delta Airlines (with non-stop flights from Chicago), Delta Faucet (touch/hands-free activated), and Delta Force (The Army: Be All You Can Be and that Chuck Norris film where he kills bad guys at Miami’s Dadeland Mall).
Now when we hear Delta, our minds go right to that B List variant that was less contagious than Omicron but more deadly.
Is there a more frightening word?
Recently, an incoming email flashed on my monitor that said Positive News! My heart sank and my stomach knotted up so I couldn’t breathe. Who was this person telling me over email that I’d tested positive for Coronavirus? It was from Capital One, regarding a credit card that I was preapproved for and didn’t want.
Here’s a tip: don’t put the word Positive in an email subject line. Even if something’s positive, as in good, there’s nothing positive about positive anymore.
What’s in your wallet?
Visit the word graveyard, and you’ll see this epitaph:
When your friend runs to you and says, “I just had an incredible breakthrough in therapy,” you head for ze hills so you don’t catch Covid from this person even though he’s been vaccinated.
Language is a funny thing. It’s ever evolving, and I long for the day when these words restore their traditional usages, and the sound of “pandemic”, “Covid”, “Masking”, and many others lose their power over us.
About the Author, David Telisman
I am a Writer and Content Creator, and I work with businesses to inspire their customers to buy from them. I believe that my clients deserve to feel proud of how their content marketing looks and what it says, and I deliver by providing expert copywriting and marketing solutions.
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