A new variant in covid speak

A couple of weeks ago, Andrew Reynolds alerted me to an interesting new variant in covid speak, a metaphor used by the Canadian Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam in the context of talking about vaccines and variants (a variant is a virus with one or two mutations). As reported by CBC on March …

From covidiots to vaxxies: How our pandemic language changed over a year

When the pandemic started in early 2020, I began to record some of the changes in our language that this global upheaval brought with it. The language of war was everywhere, a type of language that we are quite used to from other health emergencies. But a new language also began to emerge. We started …

Naming without shaming: A virus communication conundrum

We have all heard about the Kent strain of the coronavirus, or the UK or English strain for that matter, or the South African strain, or the Brazilian strain, not to forget the despicable references to the China or Wuhan virus by a former president of the United States. It’s good that we know about …

Genetics and genomics – when metaphors begin to matter

I remember in the not so distant past standing in the Wellcome Sanger Institute in Cambridge admiring the huge sequencing machines and chatting about public engagement with colleagues before giving a talk about genomics and metaphors. I also remember writing some things about gene editing and metaphor. In my mind all this related to basic …

Mutant words

I was listening to the BBC Radio 4 Today programme on this sunny morning of the 19th of December when I heard the phrase ‘mutant strain’, used in reference to a new strain of the SARS-CoV-2 virus which is apparently spreading in the South East. My ears twitched of course, as they did with ‘mutant …

An injection of metaphors

I hadn’t intended to write a blog post this week. So this is only an attempt to not let an important episode in the Covid and metaphor saga pass by without recording it for posterity. Others will have to do the difficult work of actually analysing what was going on. On 9 November, Monday afternoon, …

Firebreak

About a month ago, when I thought the government was about to announce a ‘circuit breaker’, I wrote a blog post about that metaphor. Now the Welsh government has announced a circuit breaker but has called it a ‘fire break’. That means that I now have to write a quick post about the ‘fire break’ …

Sleepwalking into pandemic polarisation

I was musing about emerging talk of a division between experts when it comes to dealing with Covid-19. This has been in the air for a while but came more to the fore after the publication of two open letters by two groups of experts. As an article in the British Medical Journal, entitled tellingly …

Dimmer switches and circuit breakers

Since the beginning of this pandemic I have been writing blog posts charting the metaphors used to think and talk about it. Most of these metaphors are based on well-known experiences of floods, storms, wars and journeys – or air, water, earth and fire. However, I have recently noticed some other metaphors which are a …

The meaning of lockdown

The other day, my father in Germany, who is quite old, phoned me and asked what lockdown meant.* ‘Lockdown’ is now used in Germany instead of more native words like ‘Ausgangssperre’ (exit barrier, if you like). He especially wondered about the ‘down’ bit, as he understood the ‘lock’ bit and also had heard about ‘locking …