Any calamity or epochal event attaches itself to human memory by generating its own unique vocabulary. The global Covid-19 pandemic has minted new words too. Quarantine chic. Go Corona. Covidiot. In India, some old words have made a 21st century comeback — Lakshman rekha.
Some newly minted words may last long. Think of the term basket case. It is often used to describe someone who is in a run-down condition or “crazy”. Its first use can be traced back to 1919 — during World War I — when a person, specifically a soldier whose four limbs had been amputated and he thus had to be carried in a basket, was described as such. Over time, its meaning was extended to include someone incapable of functioning.
All big historical events leave their imprint on the language people speak. New words or phrases get coined or old ones acquire new meanings. And it is no different with the coronavirus pandemic that has stopped the entire world in its tracks.
Life under lockdown or quarantine is fast becoming the new normal. While we still don’t know how long this will last, our daily lexicon has begun to evolve to include references to life changes that have been brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic. Not all may be worthy of sticking around. Some, like Quarantini, most likely will.
The corona language in India
“Corona Go, Go Corona” and “Coronavirus, Go Back” have become the catchphrases and are being commonly used by Indians. It may not have any tangible effect on the fight against the pandemic, but it’s amusing nonetheless. So much so that songs are being made out of it. At least, someone has their creative juices flowing while “working from home”.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s address to the nation on 24 March, when he announced a 21-day nationwide lockdown and urged people to stay within the “Lakshman rekha” of their homes, brought Ramayan back on everyone’s mind. DD National quickly realised the potential and brought it back for double viewings in a day.
“Lakshman rekha” has forever been a part of everyday conversations in Hindu families but the prime minister’s mention of it in the context of ‘social distancing’ — the practice of maintaining physical distance to avoid catching the virus — literally fanned the idea of people drawing circles on ground to restrict themselves from coming in contact with each other. With it, other words like ‘matashri’ and ‘pitashri’ from the 1980s Ramayan have entered the meme factory.
Another slang in India is the new addition to the many jihads that bigots accuse Muslims of engaging in. With something called “Thook Jihad”, Indians showed they can even communalise a pandemic that has killed more than a hundred thousand people globally. Scientists and medical experts can continue to struggle to figure out a solution to this deadly disease but for most Hindus and India’s several Right-leaning TV news channels, it’s all about peddling a tired narrative that Muslims are spreading the disease on purpose. So that’s how some Indians are going to remember this pandemic.
Corona by the millennials
Covidiot — “ someone who ignores the warnings regarding public health or safety” — and Coronacation — “a vacation that takes place because of cheap flights and hotels that exist because of the 2020 coronavirus” — have become so popular that mayors and news organisations have also taken to them.
As the virus takes over nearly everything we do, think, talk or read about, mundane things have been given a corona-nickname.
Hitting the nail on the head while describing life under lockdown, coronaspeck, “or coronavirus fat, is the helpful German word for the fat deposited by weeks of stay-at-home grazing.” Guess we know what we’ll be working off or maybe beginning to accept “post-corona”. That’s another slang for life after quarantine, whenever that may be.
And for all those privileged, for whom lockdown means less partying and more home food, ‘quarantine chic’ — dressing in home clothes and making it look fashionable (who has fashionable home clothes?), ‘quarantine and chill’ and ‘doomscrolling’ have been on their daily to-do lists.
What will be the future of these terms once this “coronapocalypse” ends? If only corona can go back and wire us the information. But until that happens, it will likely keep searching for a place in our common parlance, unfortunately.
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