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How do you delineate a crisis? With words, of course. The pandemic has resulted in clichés being, ahem, ramped up and rare medical jargon infecting everyday utterances. Here we come to terms with a few of them.

1. Coronavirus [noun]

This family of viruses was named in the mid-1960s after the spiky, crown-like structure of the capsid, itself a rather nice word for the outer surface. The effect is less sunny than the name suggests.

2. (to) Flatten the curve [verb]

To limit the number of cases for underfunded and understaffed emergency services. Boris Johnson added some levity by saying “squashing the sombrero” early on but the fact that he was in intensive care a week later showed that it was no laughing matter.

3. Herd immunity [noun]

A state of collective resistance. Although a political hot potato, the adoption of the strategy in Sweden means that the concept could yet make a comeback.

4. Quarantini [noun]

Once drinks were an excuse to escape our screens. No more.

5. Unprecedented measures [cliché]

It’s par for these “strange times” (a recently identified sub-period of the Anthropocene) to reel at such “unprecedented circumstances”
(a blanket phrase for anything from February 2020 until today).

6. Essential services [noun]

An elastic phrase that once meant doctors, nurses and carers. Then it meant delivery drivers and staff in food shops. Now it means hairdressers, garden-centre patrons and salon owners.

The final word? Resilience. Here’s to furloughing our fears and wishing for more hopeful additions to our collective conversation before the end of 2020.

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