The “Danse Macabre” (The Nuremburg Chronicles)

The “Danse Macabre” (The Nuremburg Chronicles)

Disaster jargon for a new age

From “Danse Macabre to “We’re All In This Together”

“The blizzard of the world has crossed the threshold, and it’s overturned the order of the soul.” Leonard Cohen (“The Future”)

Perhaps, in years to come, we will look back on this period of history we are living through and refer to it as the Covidian Age — a new word for a new age.

Pandemic 2020 has caused a great shock to the world order; none of us have any firm idea about what the new order will look like. But we are already speaking its language.

We have begun to use a host of neologisms, new words ready made for the times.

Not least is the disease which gives our new Covidian Age its name — COVID-19, which is itself an acronym, formed by the initial components of the phrase Coronavirus Disease [first identified in December] 2019. This disease is caused by the positive-sense single-stranded RNA virus we call the severe acute respiratory coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), more simply, the coronavirus, and more precisely, the novel coronavirus, to differentiate from past coronaviruses, like the strain that caused the SARS Pandemic in 2003.

This one seems to have a lot more teeth, so to speak. And no, it is not the flu, regardless of what the trolls are saying on Facebook.

Patient Zero — the first person to be identified with having a disease. Imagine having that on your resume. I don’t know who Patient Zero is in 2020, but interestingly enough, history’s most infamous pandemic — the Black Death of the 14th century — identified its Patient Zero, or Patients Zero, as a crew of Genoese sailors who pulled into port in 1347, infected with bubonic plague, which eventually killed a third of the population of Europe.

Contact tracing, community spread, lockdown, flattening the curve, hot zones, self-isolation — the disaster jargon is on hand for tripping off the tongues of us common folk.

“Selfie-isolation,” (or even just “iso”) — or how we eagerly post images of ourselves on social media to communicate with the world.

If you don’t have time to say “hand sanitizer,” you can just say “sanny.” I made my own sanny, out of isopropyl and solarcaine, two thing I’d had just lying around the house. Who knew they would go together so well?

A “super spreader” is someone generally “asymptomatic,” like poor well-intentioned Mary Mallon, also known as Typhoid Mary. However, we know more than they did in the 19th century, Mary’s time, and can use contact tracing and self-isolation to flatten that curve and save superspreaders the infamy and public wrath that was Typhoid Mary’s lot. That is the ideal, anyway, once we get the community testing up to speed.

These words, and many others, have entered the language word hoard and may well be adopted to general use once this pandemic passes, if it ever does.

One neologism, a great new word, that may not last, is Covidiot, which we use to describe those persons who ignore the advice to self-isolate or social distance and who will congregate in public (or even in private), giving the remarkably infectious novel coronavirus a foothold to spread like wildfire. Perhaps “Covidiot” will come to mean anyone who ignores publicly issued guidelines in such a way, thus putting the whole community at risk. But there are lots of good words for selfish, shortsighted people already.

The Black Death of the 14th Century coined phrases galore — many in response to a mortality so widespread it seemed like the end of the world. “Artes Moriendi,” for example, the first ever guide to death and dying well. Or “Danse Macabre,” a personification of death who mocked us into remembering how fleeting our lives are.

There are many historical parallels from pandemics in centuries gone by, and similarities from age to age. But there are differences that set them apart, making them unique and leaving their mark on society.

If the Black Death gave us a macabre familiarity with the sense of our own mortality, I think the Covidian Age is heightening our sense of community. There are plenty of horrors happening at this time, of course; the social media trolls are out in force; the pandemic is making bad situations worse. But I do believe we will emerge on the other side of the Covidian Age as a kinder, more compassionate people. Perhaps the greatest addition to our language is the phrase so many of us are using: “We’re all in this together.”