June 26, 2020, by Brigitte Nerlich
I was looking at news articles about the lockdown and it suddenly dawned on me that something similar was happening here to what we observed around 2005 in terms of ‘carbon compounds’.
At the time the climate crisis was extensively discussed in the news and people tried to find ways out of it. One focus was ‘carbon’, short for ‘carbon dioxide’, as a greenhouse gas and the damage it does to the atmosphere. Talk about carbon spawned a whole new, albeit short-lived, language in which the word ‘carbon’ was combined with other words, from ‘carbon awareness’ to ‘carbon zealots’. Compounding occurs when two or more words are joined to make one longer word.
We used such word combinations or compounds, indeed ‘carbon compounds’, as tracking devices to observe emerging and changing patterns in climate change discourse around 2005.
So, I thought that one could do something similar for ‘coronavirus’ or ‘COVID-19’ ‘lockdown’… and I started to find some interesting clusters of lexical combinations around lockdown. Now that we are coming out of lockdown, it is perhaps time to take stock of how we talked about it.
Lockdown weight gain
Epic lockdown weight loss journey
Lockdown loo map
Lockdown love dilemma
Lockdown date night ideas
And, more prosaically:
Protracted post-lockdown coronavirus recovery
And of course:
All the world’s a lockdown
But then it hit me. These lockdown ‘compounds’ are quite different when compared to the ‘carbon compounds’ we had studied before. Here for example, we got things like ‘carbon capture’, a whole new technology, or ‘carbon neutral’ and ‘carbon reduction activism’, whole new ways of life, or, even, ‘carbon indulgence pixie dust’ – a phrase now quite difficult to understand. In contrast, the lockdown compounds, while indicative of changed ways of living, don’t really open up spaces for really transformative ways of thinking. Am I right in thinking this?
When you put in ‘lockdown’ and a… into Google you find all sorts of words from ‘lockdown afternoon tea’ to ‘lockdown anniversary ideas’. The same goes for b and c (see featured image) and d and so on, and for e obviously we get ‘easing’, ‘ending’, and ‘exit’.
Lockdown language just pervades everything we do or have done. It changed our world but it it did not transform it. Not that the new carbon compounds have transformed the world either, but they potentially could have, given a bit of political will – they were rather creative compared to the lockdown compounds.
We are now exiting the lockdown. Let’s see how long it takes for the lockdown words to vanish and the world going back to ‘normal’. If it snaps back to normal without a trace, an opportunity for speaking a new language and making a new world will have been lost.