"When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master – – that’s all.”
- Through the Looking Glass
What a year has it been and what words it has taught us!
Many experts point out that science had never received as much importance. Epidemiologists, immunologists, doctors, frontline workers – they were all brought to the forefront by that unlikely bulldozer of change, the novel coronavirus.
From not caring to know anything about the common cold to knowing everything about COVID-19, it was a collective learning experience for everyone. The world became an open laboratory and we all had our becoming-boffins moments.
Indeed, how far we have come from first hearing the word COVID-19 to now!
Coronaviruses are actually as common as the common cold. But it took COVID-19 for the coronavirus to truly seep into our vocabulary. The first case in India was detected in late January in Thrissur in Kerala. But it was two more months before India (along with most of the world) came to realise the full impact of the disruption this virus could unleash.
The word isolation was not in common usage, and certainly not in the context we now use it in. A COVID-positive patient had to be isolated for the duration of treatment to avoid further spread of the disease and this notion scared many people the most.
The concept of quarantining too was alien to this country of 125 crore people. But by May, people were talking about being quarantined after inter-state travel. That’s how quick the transformation was.
To be carrying the virus and not having any visible effects was a possibility and people didn’t realize it in the early stages. While the majority showed signs like cold and fever, some didn’t show any symptoms, yet they tested positive. This served as our introduction to being asymptomatic/symptomatic.
To be normal and infected is a fact many haven’t wrapped their heads around still! Do wear masks (if you haven't been) from now on at least, please.
PPE kits to N95 masks!
As soon as the virus multiplied at warp speed, terms like N95 masks and PPE kits came into everyday use.
People clothed in PPE kits boarding flights as soon as air travel resumed was truly one of the sights of 2020.
COVID also ensured a closer acquaintance with antibodies. The latest development is that we now have a novel 20-minute COVID antibody test. And the hunt is well on for antibody tests that can give the result in a matter of seconds.
Convalescent plasma therapy to help hospitalised COVID-19 positive patients recover was touted to be a possible miracle worker. But then came the doubts. We are now at a stage where some are speculating if the new COVID strain might have emerged because of the use of this therapy.
Another arresting theory in a year of arresting theories.
It was the drug the President of USA once swore by. In his typical Donald Trumpian manner, the POTUS even warned India of retaliation if HCQ did not make its way to the land of the free and the home of the brave. If only HCQ had worked!
Would the world need vaccines or could we rely on herd immunity? This was one of the big questions early on. But experts were quick to dismiss any fanciful talk around herd immunity, which is only attained when a significant proportion of the population is exposed to the virus.
At no other time has the hunt for a vaccine captured the world’s imagination in this manner. Now, we have multiple candidates? Or do we? The new COVID strain has sprung another question mark upon us.
Reminds you of the X-men movie franchise, does it? Mutation and mutants sure have moved away from the screens. Now, a clear and present danger.
What is more surprising? An invisible virus making people sick across the world or the fact that we have a word to describe the phenomenon? You decide.
Anyway, the world suddenly repeated the word 'pandemic' gazillion times as the SARS-CoV-2 turned out to be highly contagious (another word that came into vogue, tsk).
The word of the year for many. Once unthinkable, it was the go-to weapon for governments in their fight against COVID in 2020. The Chinese led and the world followed.
Socially distance, experts told us. Then there were other experts who said it was actually about maintaining physical distance, not keeping people out of our lives.
Be that as it may, in the year when small white circles drawn at calculated distances from one another became a common sight, there was little escaping social distancing.