How the Corona Crisis has infected our language

white and black Together We Create graffiti wall decor“Words, words, words.”

–  Shakespeare (Hamlet Act 2, Scene 2)

Last week I offered you 5 recipes for mocktails that are easy to make at home. I could have called each of those a “Quarantini” (a cocktail made while stuck at home) as well. Quarantini is one of many new words that have “infected” our daily language since the Corona Crisis is in full swing.

As a language teacher I am fascinated by this phenomenon. How are these new words created and what kind of new vocabulary is there? As we are talking about a pandemic I will not only look at the ways the English vocabulary has been infected, but also treat some Dutch (my native language) and German (my daily language in Switzerland) words. No worries: the blogpost is in English, so you can follow it all!

Read on to enjoy this bit of homeschooling!

Shakespeare’s way with words

Before we get to the Corona Crisis Vocabulary Infection, I’d like to take you back to the end of the 16th century when, within a couple of years, many new words were added to the English language. Not because of a war or a crisis, but because of the very creative William Shakespeare.

Shakespeare Statue in Central Park NYC (a must visit)

If anyone is known for inventing new words, it’s Wil. Around 1700 English words have been introduced by this clever chap. How did he do it? Well, he had 5 ways:

  1. Changing nouns into verbs (which is called “verbing”)
  2. Making adjectives from verbs
  3. Connecting words that had been never used together before (the guy is called Shakespeare- “what’s in a name” right?)
  4. Adding prefixes and suffixes
  5. Inventing what he needed, because it wasn’t available at all

Why a crisis is good for vocabulary

Post Shakespeare the best creators of new vocabulary have been wars. A war is a huge generator of new words, because it is drastic, calamitous, and often international. In times of war people are brought together in a crisis and they automatically look for language that can help them understand what they are going through. New language does not only help them to understand, it is often simply needed to define this new situation.

The Corona Crisis is not a traditional war, but a war it is; a war against a virus and a very international one too, drastic and calamitous. Not surprisingly then that new words emerge to help us understand what we are going through and to define this new situation and new society.

A pandemic of new words

Do these new words appear the same way Shakespeare created new words in the 16th century? Kind of. Have a look:

Example of 1. Changing nouns into verbs (which is called “verbing”):
  • Zoomen (Noun Zoom + en creates the Dutch verb zoomen). Even the Dutch Prime Minister uses the verb zoomen in his press conferences to indicate that he knows that many of us communicate these days using Zoom).
Example of 2. Making adjectives from verbs 
  • Bemondkapt (Dutch, meaning: wearing a mouth mask, used as an adjective). An example: de bemondkapte verpleegster – the mouth-masked nurse. It is actually an adjective made from a noun and not an adjective made from a verb (Shakespeare’s style). So far it’s one of the few adjectives I could find; most new Corona Crisis words are nouns and verbs.

Mona Lisa met mondkapje.Mona Lisa (worth visiting), though you will not see her like this

Examples of 3. Connecting words that had been never used together before:

This is the most common way of creating new vocabulary, since it is easy in many languages to make new nouns from 2 (parts of) existing nouns. A short selection:

  • Quarantini (quarantine & martini – a cocktail made and drunk at home while in quarantine)
  • Quarantunes (quarantine & tunes – songs you listen to while being at home because of a lockdown)
  • Covidiot (covid & idiot – someone who behaves like an idiot regarding Covid-19)
  • Social distancing (the practice of maintaining a greater than usual physical distance from other people or of avoiding direct contact with people or objects in public places during the outbreak of a contagious disease in order to minimise exposure and reduce the transmission of infection)
  • Kuchscherm (Dutch, meaning cough-screen: those plexiglass screens set up in supermarkets and the like to protect both customers and cashiers)
  • Spuckschutzscheibe (German, meaning spit-protection-window: again those plexiglass screens set up in supermarkets and the like to protect both customers and cashiers). It makes you wonder why the Dutch feel they have to be protected from coughing and the Germans from spitting…
  • Huidhonger (Dutch, meaning skin-hunger: the graving for physical touch and contact)
  • Infodemie (Dutch and German for infodemic – information & epidemic. It means spreading fake news about the crisis as well as getting an overload of information about the crisis)
  • 1,5 meter maatschappij (Dutch, meaning 1,5 meter society: a society in which we have to function while making sure to keep our distance)

assorted tape measures

Examples of 4. Adding prefixes and suffixes:
  • Super-spreader (an individual who is highly contagious and capable of transmitting a communicable disease to an unusually large number of uninfected individuals)
  • Digidinner (and other combinations with the prefix digi, indicating that an activity is done together via some kind of digital way)
Example of 5. Inventing what is needed, because it wasn’t available at all
  • I couldn’t find any example for this. In Shakespeare’s time there were far fewer words and the world was far less globalised, so it is getting more and more difficult to really invent a totally new word these days. Maybe you know one? I would be very happy if you would share it here!

Dutch Corona Scrabble

So far an overview of some new “Corana Crisis related” vocabulary and how these new words are created. What is your favourite new Corona Crisis word?

Love,

Lieske

Photo credits:

Photos (apart from the one in Central Park and the Scrabble one) are taken from the websites unsplash and pixabay.

Thank you Toa Heftiba, museums Victoria, Sumanley & Patricia Serna.

 

 

 

 

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3 Comments

  1. Hahah, quarantaine and covidiot are good ones! We have a lot of them in the Netherlands. Especially onder people! We went cycling yesterday and almost all the people we passed were older ones and almost none of them cycled bruine each other while passing. Very irritating. I would have called them covidiot! I ordered Crodino and gingerale! Cocktails it is this weekend! Have a good one Lieske!

    1. There are so many creative new words around. I just love it!

      As for the quarantinis: I have friends coming over for some mocktails this weekend. I have got a big garden, so the right social distance is guaranteed (as are delicious drinks).

      Enjoy your own cocktail party too Nancy!

      Love, Lieske

    2. Hi Nancy. I just read in the Volkskrant that more than 700 new words have found their way into the Dutch language thanks to the Corona Crisis. Here’s the link.

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