The ‘F’ word (furlough!) and other ways coronavirus has changed our language

We’re living in unprecedented times, and we know it. Such has been the impact of the global pandemic that everyday life has been turned on its head. So it’s not surprising that our language has had a surprise overhaul too.

The Oxford English Dictionary usually makes its updates each quarter. But it recently made an exception to include the term COVID-19, alongside elbow bump, social recession and infodemic.

Words that didn’t exist, BC

Slang has also brought with it some ‘gallows humour’ since the outbreak began, such as:

  • BC – a popular term, now meaning Before Covid rather than Before Christ
  • Covidiot– an insult for someone disregarding Government guidance
  • Doomscrolling – scrolling down our smartphones for the latest posts related to bad news about the pandemic
  • Coronaphobia– the fear of returning to normality once lockdown is relieved
  • Zumping – someone who has been dumped via Zoom
  • Coronacoaster – the ups and downs of life amid Covid and lockdown

And no-one could have predicted that little-known phrase ‘furlough’ would so drastically impact the livelihoods of over seven million Britons. Apparently it was derived from the Dutch ‘verlof’ meaning leave of absence used in the military when soldiers were sent home. It now describes a nation turning to alcohol in lockdown – ‘furlough merlot’.

A PR industry webinar recently tracked patterns in language use since the start of the outbreak. Analysing around three million words, it pulled data and key words from internet forums discussing coronavirus.

One of the major changes it noted was a switch from using the term coronavirus to COVID-19, and an increase in discussions around building immunity. Another focus will be which media outlets are most trusted by people during the crisis, and the language trends they use in their reports – something we’ll be keeping our eyes on.

Why does it matter?

Because businesses can benefit from these important insights through SEO – using keywords to direct traffic to your website.  It is vital for marketers to keep their finger on the pulse of language use to maximise the effectiveness of online content.

Language has always moved with the times, but the change in just five months, thanks to COVID-19, Corona, the pandemic, or whatever you want to call it, has been exponential. At The Tonic Communications, language use is at the heart of what we do. If you’re looking for a PR agency that can help develop compelling, relevant content that cuts through and demands the attention of media, customers and stakeholders, get in touch with our team here.

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