All of us are or should be hunkered down as we wait out the storm that is COVID-19. I can’t provide a cure (Or can I? More on that in a moment.), but I can continue to do what I do best in the hope that it brings a moment of intellectual distraction to readers.
With that said, here’s a few grammatical observations on the language surrounding COVID-19.
Pandemic, which as an adjective refers to something prevalent over an entire country or the world. As a noun, pandemic is an outbreak of a pandemic disease. Of course, pandemic differs from …
Epidemic, which is an outbreak of disease that attacks many people at about the same time and may spread through one or several countries.
Underlying health conditions, I’m not sure how often we heard this term before the pandemic, but I did a bit of digging to understand its usage. “Underlying” is the present participle of “underlie,” meaning something beneath something else. It also can refer to a steady, truss, or a way to bolster or carry. In the case of the current health crisis, the first definitions seem to work best.
Social distancing, which Merriam-Webster says was first used in 2003, roughly coinciding with the SARS coronavirus. It is 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 minimize exposure and reduce the transmission of infection.
Asymptomatic, which Merriam-Webster defines as presenting no symptoms of a disease. This is one of those words of efficiency. Rather than saying “He has no symptoms,” you save a couple of words by saying “He’s asymptomatic.” Then again, what are we saving those extra words for?
Elective surgery, which refers to a surgical procedure one chooses to do and does not involve a medical emergency. Elective comes from the Latin “eligere,” meaning to choose. Types of elective surgeries can vary from cosmetic to orthopedic and more. Fifteen years ago, for example, I had surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff. As painful as my shoulder was leading up to the surgery, that was an elective procedure.
And now a word from the editor
I mentioned earlier that I don’t have a cure for COVID-19. That’s not entirely true. We all have the cure at our disposal. For now, that cure is social distancing. We need to do that as much as possible.
Speaking for myself, I am practicing social distancing because I’m angry. I’m angry that people are suffering. I’m angry because I cannot visit my daughter, son-in-law, or two-year-old grandson.
But anger isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Psychology Today says that anger can be good for us because it is a tool to protect us and our relationships, and it make us stronger in the face of adversity. How we focus and use anger is what can make it useful, and that is where a cure can come in.
COVID-19 can be beaten with social distancing. I’m mad as hell at this disease, and I am going to use my anger to leverage the one effective weapon at my disposal – social distancing – to choke this thing off.
Let’s all get angry. Not at a politician. Not at a grocery store for not having enough toilet paper (Where is that stuff going, anyway?). Let’s all focus anger at this disease and kick it to the curb for good.
Get angry. And let’s write carefully out there, people.
Joe Diorio is a writer living in Nashville, Tennessee.
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