It’s only words... how Covid has taken over our lives — and also our language

The most Googled searches, new words in the dictionary... Covid, lockdowns and furloughs have dominated 2020 discourse, says John Dolan
It’s only words... how Covid has taken over our lives — and also our language

'How to make a face mask' and 'How to make hand sanitizer' were among the most googled searches in 2020

WE had an election in 2020 — remember that?

I know, February seems like a lifetime ago, but when you think what’s happened since, it’s little wonder we have forgotten all about the voting, the Sinn Féin ‘Green Wave’, and the interminable dithering before a government was finally formed.

I was reminded of that election this week when a list of the top ten most Googled internet searches in Ireland in 2020 was revealed.

The only one that didn’t relate to Covid-19 was ‘How to register to vote’, harking back to those pre-pandemic halcyon days when the main thing that seemed to concern us was something called a ‘backstop’.

(If we have one thing to be grateful to Covid for, it’s the fact that, without it, we would have had nine months of ‘Brexit D-day’ and ‘Brexit last-gasp talks’ headlines. Incidentally, the No.1 most- Googled question in Ireland in 2019 was ‘What is the backstop?’)

But 2020 has been hijacked...

Apart from the voting query, the other nine most Googled searches for 2020 were:

How to make a face mask

How to make hand sanitizer

How to cut men’s hair

How to make scones

How to make banana bread

How to cut your own hair

How to make cookies

How to cancel Covid payment

How to get tested for Coronavirus Ireland

This is remarkable, since not a single one of these would have appeared on the list if it hadn’t been for a virus measuring 50-200 nanometres in diameter. (Note: A nanometre is a billionth of a metre, which is the size of the violin needed to feel sorry for Bertie Ahern as he finally got his cruelly-delayed €15,000 a year pension hike this week).

Language is powerful; it reflects our lives so closely, a fact shown again this week when that row over a word in a Pogues song and a row over the word ‘black’ used to describe a footballer dominated national discourse.

It’s not just words that can provoke controversy, but how they are pronounced.

When the word ‘furlough’ started being used on BBC and Sky in the UK to describe the temporary laying off of workers, my Dublin brother-in-law swore blind it should have been pronounced ‘fur-low’ instead of ‘fur-lock. (The word is Germanic and Dutch in origin so maybe we should ask them?)

A year ago, Covid meant nothing to anyone but a handful of scientists in China. The word does not appear in any archive searches for either the Echo and Examiner until February 12 this year — four days after the General Election — although worrying reports of a new ‘coronavirus’ in China had been around since January 20.

On February 12, it was reported that a deadly new coronavirus had been officially named as Covid-19, by the World Health Organisation, standing for ‘coronavirus disease 2019’. Since then, the word, like the disease, has spread like wildfire.

When the Collins Dictionary revealed its words of 2020 recently, it designated ‘lockdown’ as No.1. The very word has grim connotations now, doesn’t it?

Collins registered more than a quarter of a million usages of the word ‘lockdown’ in 2020, against only 4,000 the previous year.

Among its ten ‘long words’ of 2020 were ‘coronavirus’, ‘social distancing’, ‘self-isolate’, ‘key worker’ and ‘furlough’.

All of this reflects the universal effect of Covid-19 across the planet. A similar situation occurred in World War II when words like Jeep and Radar came into the lexicon — and never left.

All of which brings me neatly to what I wonder will be the ten most Googled phrases of 2021.

I drew up a wishlist — I’m sure you will have your own...

1. Covid-19 vaccine kills all known germs — stone dead.

2. Life goes back to normal.

3. How much is it to fly to the Canary Islands?

4. Brexit is over forever.

5. Trump leaves White House with gracious speech wishing Joe Biden all the best.

6. Biden visits Cork and swaps jokes with market fishmonger.

7. Cork do another GAA double!

8. Dolan family in Cork win the Euromillions.

9. England pull off amazing Euro 2021 and World Cup double (indulge me, please!)

10. Uh oh, what is Covid-20 and why should I be worried?

Ah, lighten up — that last one was a joke.

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