An evolving glossary for the times
Illustration by Igan D’bayan

An evolving glossary for the times

KRIPOTKIN - Alfred A. Yuson (The Philippine Star) - April 20, 2020 - 12:00am

We’re all learning new words and terms pertaining to the ongoing crisis. No one can escape an enforced expansion of vocabulary, even if the language is borrowed and foisted on all economic classes.

Familiar words gain fresh connotations, while technical terms can’t help but thrust themselves into everyone’s consciousness. And of course the Pinoy penchant for humor by way of bilingual puns enriches this evolving glossary.

Here’s a partial list, in alphabetical order, of neologisms, portmanteaus, satirical takes, acronyms, and medical terms that have burst through the open portals of our linguistic awareness. In brief, most of these have also gone viral.

Alcohol — used to refer to its two basic uses, which it still does, albeit one now comes with the knowledge that at least 70 percent potency is needed to be effective for sanitizing, while the other induces lament over a ban on the purchase of spirits in certain benighted communities.

Antibody/ies — a familiar term that has gained a fresh level of expectation, as well as consternation, when Duterte recently announced that he had read about how a foreign pharma company will roll out this putative antidote by May, and how its arrival might lead to a lifting of our lockdown. Consternation because his words, let alone medical knowledge, are hardly ever equated with any level of credence.  

Asymptomatic — used to be known only within health-related circles, but which now renders concern over possible disguise of a treacherous virus. Its popularity has spawned satirical bilingual memes, such as “asymptopangit” to mean someone who’s unsightly but doesn’t know it, and later, “asymptangatic,” referring to someone who is ignorant of his/her ignorance. The latter has appeared in comments on late-night press cons that turn into rambling, incoherent monologues. 

Bayanihan to Heal as One Act — a clever title affixed to an emergency legislative measure that hopes to turn the tide against financial duress that threatens everyone.

Behavior modifications — usually uttered by health experts, such as the equable DOH Undersecretary Dr. Maria Rosario Vergeire in her daily updates on TV, to refer to ideal changes demanded of everyone being implored to join the fight against “the common enemy.”

“Bonggonate” — To quote the meme, “to donate something which is not yours to gain political capital.” A sample sentence is provided: “The Senator has been busy bonggonating recently because he is planning to run for higher office in two years.” In fairness, the senator alluded to has denied the allegations, which he has characterized as fake news. In further fairness, detractors have laughed off these denials, while pointing out the myriad photos that have appeared online, of healthcare personnel holding up thank-you signs for “indirect” donations, with his name appearing larger than those of the original donors.

Checkpoints — What else is new?

Comorbidity or comorbid illness — additional medical conditions that complicate treatment, of late referring to those with greater susceptibility to viral infection, owing to certain extant illnesses.  

Contact tracing — identifying people who have recently been exposed to a COVID-19-positive patient, thus requiring the imposition of at least two weeks of self-quarantine. 

Convalescent plasma therapy — involves transfusion of plasma from recovered patients, in the hope that antibodies they had developed will prove just as effective for current patients. This proposed practice remains under question. 

Coronavirus or novel coronavirus — the darned unseen monster that has wreaked global havoc. Said to have started when a resident of Wuhan, China, made a meal of a pangolin or some such exotic animal. A species of viruses was first discovered to have infected domesticated chickens in the 1930s, well before human coronaviruses were discovered in the 1960s. Recent varieties include the SAS-CoV in 2003, MERS-CoV in 2012, and SARS-CoV-2 in 2019 — which has since been renamed COVID-19. These last three have been the most lethal in causing respiratory tract infections, with the first two leading to outbreaks, while the last has unfortunately grown into a pandemic.  

Covidiocy — everything that we still don’t know about COVID-19, plus all the myths and fake news that exacerbate the situation.

Depressed community — a socio-economic term that now helps determine the distribution of food package donations, mostly of sardines and noodles, from local governments or LGUs. 

Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) — a smart euphemism for the harsher-sounding “lockdown,” even if the modifier remains ambiguous to the non-literate. Still, it’s easier to accept than “Extreme.”

Flattening the curve — This phrase has lent a graphic understanding of how mitigation measures such as community quarantine, social distancing and wearing face masks may be succeeding in arresting the contagion, or specifically, in decreasing the daily number of viral infections. On a chart, the line that shows an upward climb or “spike” may reach an apex before it plateaus, if at all. Thus is the cresting curve flattened, suggesting a degree of success that may lead to lifting or modifying the lockdown.  

Face masks — the mandatory fashion statement of the day, or weeks, months, maybe even a year.

First responders — already a familiar term due to recent disaster experience, from super-typhoons to volcanic activity; presently, the main heroes among these selfless ranks are healthcare personnel.

Herd immunity — believed to occur when a high proportion of infections within a community eventually leads to natural resistance or immunization in that specific population. But the argument remains speculative, and may still involve vaccination. 

Infodemic — a pandemonium of information on the pandemic, inclusive of myths, fake news, speculations, politicking, even presidential posturing as health experts, all causing a maze of conflicting opinions and confusion worthy of a Confucian strike-down.

* * *

NOTE: To be continued. The remaining entries go from “infrared meter” to “vulnerable population,” but the list is of course subject to possible late-breaking additions.

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