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Debbie Duncan: COVID Vocabulary

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It seems like everything changed this year, thanks to COVID, including our vocabulary. Debbie Duncan has this Perspective.

I’ve never been one to make New Year’s resolutions, but every December I do like to record what I’m grateful to have at the end of the year that was not part of my life in January — say, a new friend, a product, even a recipe. For many of us, 2020 won’t be associated with positivity, though I sure appreciate my new weighted blanket and wonder why it took me so long to discover the deliciousness of shakshuka, a North African/Middle Eastern dish of peppers, onions and tomatoes.

This December I’m thinking about words, and how many new and repurposed words and expressions have become part of the vernacular because of COVID-19, the disease caused by this novel coronavirus. The Oxford English Dictionary couldn’t come up with a 2020 Word of the Year: there are too many. Merriam-Webster settled on pandemic. That term wasn’t new to me — my great aunt Bea told me about the 1918 flu pandemic when I was a child to explain why she developed Parkinson’s disease. I knew the perils of a pandemic before living through one.

How about masks? In Before Times, facemasks were in operating rooms, dentists’ offices, Asia and perhaps here during wildfire season. Now I have a stack of masks by the front door and in the car. Mask up! say signs on the back of buses.

Yet masks aren’t enough to keep us safe, as we also need to practice social distancing. I prefer to call it physical distancing. Whatever, stay 6 feet away from anyone who does not live with you, or who is not in your pandemic pod or bubble. These behaviors, and early stay-at-home orders, were supposed to flatten the curve.


Or not, because Americans have shown to be the worst at following advice of public health experts. Some so-called "covidiots" attend super spreader events. Smaller, community spread has added to the surge we’re now experiencing and the need for more people to quarantine and kids to continue distance learning. Will we achieve herd immunity through vaccine or illness?

Please let it be by safe and effective vaccines. I hope that next year vaccine is the obvious Word of the Year, as it leads us to good health and better living in 2021 and beyond.

With a Perspective, I’m Debbie Duncan.

Debbie Duncan writes children’s books from her home on the Peninsula.

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