LINGUISTS believe that the words that find their way into our everyday language can reflect what society is preoccupied with and focused on. Much has been said about how rice has so many equivalent words in our local languages, often referring to the different stages rice has from growing and harvesting (palay) to milled (bigas) to cooked (kanin) while it’s all just rice in plain English. It is said to reflect our own obsession with rice in its many forms, unlike English native peoples for whom rice may just be another thing they buy at their nearest Trader Joe’s. I asked a question lately on Facebook about what new words have crept into our collective vocabularies in the past two years, and the answers clearly paint the picture of what our minds have been focused on. Let me share some of the words here.
A lot of words and phrases that came up directly have things to do with COVID and our understanding of it.
From VIRAL LOAD (the amount of virus in an infected person’s blood) to CYTOKINE STORM or ATTACK (when the body begins to attack its own cells and tissues instead of fighting the virus) to AIRBORNE to ASYMPTOMATIC, the words show our collective focus on trying to understand how exactly an-invisible-to-the-naked-eye thing like a virus wreaks havoc on our bodies.
Then there are words and phrases that talk about treatments for COVID like inoculate, vax, vaxxed and vax card all the way to the other extreme with words like ivermectin, anti-vaxxer, covidiot and vaccine hesitancy entering our vocabulary.
There are the things we occupy ourselves with to distract us from the world around us. Plantitos and plantitas surrounded every nook and cranny with philodendrons, monstera and pothos. Food junkies stuffed themselves with meals from Food Panda, Grab Food and Food Ninja in Baguio. Online shoppers were easily influenced by their friends online, and had willing budol experiences in Shopee and Lazada. Many received ayuda not just from the government and citizen led projects like community pantries but also from friends and ayudaddies as well. Truly, online transactions from sending money through GCash, Paymaya and all the other digital wallet services to shopping and food delivery have taken a quantum leap during this pandemic when staying at home and social distancing became the norm.
How we remained connected also changed. Zoom became a household name all of a sudden. Students had to get used to synchronous and asynchronous classes. Even socializing had to be done through video conferencing with the many variations of e-numans and Zoomustahans now replacing what used to be nights out and reunions and dates over coffee as we made Dalgona Coffee, burnt cheesecake, ube pandesal and sushi bakes at home.
How our public officials responded to the COVID challenge also introduced many new words like Brrrrt Brrrrrt, veerus, Dolomite and warak. All of which show an ansymptopangit way of governing and dealing with crises. Sure social distancing is easy enough to understand with the reminders to adhere to minimum public health standards outlined by the government. But when used as part of a strategy it becomes confusing as it becomes difficult to determine the different nuances of MECQ, ECQ, MGCQ and GCQ with the variations of heightened restrictions thrown in – it becomes a lot to process when all you want to do is buy Banana-Q from the neighboring barangay.
We all want to get back to the new normal – whenever that may be and whatever that may mean. Going back to life pre-quarantine seemed like it was just a year away when 2021 started. Now we’re about to launch into the last quarter of the year, it almost seems like we are back to square one with Delta devastating the entire world.
We’ve gone through a lot -adjusting, learning and re-learning – a quick survey of our language makes it obvious. If you’re exhausted from all of these – take comfort that language is chronicling how challenging this time is for all of us through the new words and phrases that have now become part of our daily language.