I have been thinking a lot about language.
The words we hear and use everyday impact the way we think and influence the actions we take. The constant transformation of language is both a reflection of the environment and a catalyst for change. That change can be imperceptible and slow-moving or a temporary innovation that will come and go; nonetheless, it will shape who we are as a society in the present and be fixed in a somatic way as we continue into our future.
We are currently in the midst of a period of dramatic language reconstruction. Social distance, quarantine, essential, flattening the curve, peak, curbside, lockdown, recovery. How often did we think about these words on a daily basis before 2020? How often do we utilize them in daily conversation now? The words and phrases that come from our moving mouths are directly linked to the concepts that we as a community have deemed as fundamental to live by.
And we are embodying this new way of living to an extent that these words will never be thought about the same way ever again.
For example, remember a time when social and distant were antonyms? Remember when the idea of a nationwide quarantine was far removed from us—only existing in history books about, say, the Bubonic Plague? Remember when essential was used with whimsy? You could attach this descriptor to the objects that mattered most to you personally: your daily coffee, your favorite handbag, a hug from a loved one when you got home from work. Now every object or act deemed essential is recognized as necessary by all.
This language that we have become accustomed to using has shaped our new experience as one that is shared. The irony is that it is shared…separately. Perhaps words are actually the one thing that really connects us in a physical way these days. We stand six feet apart in order to prevent any physical contact, but we can still catch—still trust—light and sound waves. So we relish in images and let the words we speak resonate a bit longer than we used to.
This phenomenon is not one that has been slow-moving by any means. But we do know it is temporary. The one thing that is promised is that our collective memories about the language of this time will serve as an imprint and an echo of this extraordinary state of being for the rest of our lives.