Wow, how office life has changed in the past month. Instead of working in an open plan space with views over Cheltenham and beyond, I’ve squeezed a desk into my spare room, my lunchtime stroll to the sandwich shop is now a quick trip downstairs to the kitchen and the closest I’ve been to any of my colleagues for five weeks is seeing them on screen during our virtual team meetings. Almost overnight, we’ve had to adapt to a completely new working environment.
So adapt we have, and not just in relation to our physical surroundings. The language we use in business and beyond has also changed, evolving as it so often has over time to fit the new circumstances in which we find ourselves. As quickly as Coronavirus has taken hold, a new vocabulary associated with it has sprung up and entered common parlance.
It started with self-isolation – surely set to be crowned the word of 2020 – and variations thereof, quickly followed by homeworking (slightly less passive than working from home). Tea breaks have been replaced by virtual coffees, which can, of course, involve real coffee, and a flick through the headlines is now known as doom-scrolling. As we all got to grips with digital meetings, unmute yourself became perhaps the most used phrase in daily business life – usually chanted by a chorus of raised, slightly exasperated, voices.
As the situation became more severe, so did the words we use to describe it: first social distancing, then lockdown. And, of course, quarantine no longer just relates to dogs who might have rabies.
But the beauty of language, in my opinion, isn’t just how it evolves to include new words, it’s also how the meaning, and usage, of existing words can change. Post-Coronavirus, going viral, will surely never again be viewed as a success.
Verity Barr is a senior consultant at Camargue