Just a Thought – Language, Lover?

As we (sail, grapple, stride) our way through the new culture of the pandemic, it comes back to me again how (essential, crucial, vital) it is to choose the language that we want to shape our reality.

I realized, a few weeks ago, that whenever it came up in conversation – and it comes up in every conversation – I was using the word “crisis.” A crisis, for definition, shouldn’t last long than a brief period of time. The climate crisis, as one example, has been re-translated as climate change or climate shift. Because even though it is a crisis, it’s hard to sustain peak angst over a period of years. Not impossible, but emotionally exhausting. And fear does not promote, or even allow, for creative thought. That thing you need to get you out of the crisis.

As I began to consider how I wanted to frame the moment, in my own thoughts and conversations, I played with the possibilities. Calling it ‘the pandemic’ is accurate, and fairly neutral, but does not inspire much in the way of hope. I considered ‘the change’ but I think menopause still holds the popular copyright on that phrase. But what language could reflect the positive aspect of what we are going through?

I realize the disease itself is horrifying. I know that there are communities that are being crippled, long term dreams crumbling to dust, and our national government is so far beyond incompetent, it’s surreal.

I wake up and read the papers, scan social media, check my emails – and it’s all I can do to not scream.

But there is a difference between living in hell and living in purgatory. If it’s purgatory, then I have reasons to hope. That is the power of language.

So – what to call this while it’s still ‘this’?

‘The re-set’ sounds awfully technical. Society is not something that can be unplugged and then plugged in again. There is a lot of evolution involved.

‘Blue Skies’ makes it sound as is everyone is just having a great time, when lots of people are truly struggling. But the skies are very blue.

‘Masked months?’ We might be looking at years of masks, so that doesn’t work without a crystal ball.

I specifically don’t like “lockdown,” which much of the media uses. Lockdown is what happens in a prison; you are not incarcerated ( I’ll bet there will be much more consideration of how we incarcerate people in the coming years.) You are “Safer at Home.”

I’d love to hear any thoughts you have on the topic; what do you call this extraordinary moment we are in? How can we highlight the good and keep that to the forefront?

Whaddaya say?

Judith Martin-Straw

The Actors' Gang


  1. Words like “Renaissance” come to mind. “Reawakening” although that sounds biblical. “Cleansing” is too harsh as it implies we are ridding the population of the weaker members and sounds Nazi-esq.

  2. I have a friend who has been using “the stupid virus” when explaining to her three-year-old why they can’t [fill in the blank]. Since that explanation has to be provided several times a day, the language is pretty much hardwired in her home. In my home, with an adult child and an essential worker, we’ve been using “pandemic” and “quarantine” and these feel right to me, because they’re factually accurate (always a good thing, and not necessarily a given these days), both now and in the future. “This is a pandemic. We are self-quarantining.” “Remember the pandemic of 2020? We had to self-quarantine.” I’m definitely hoping we’ll remake the world in a better way, and I think the name for that will come about organically when we actually do it. If we don’t, this will be known historically as the time when “the government tried to take away our golf clubs.”

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