We Have No Words for What We Are Going Through
Quarantine was never right. “Rediscovery” is also not a very accurate term. What we are experiencing as a society is unprecedented and we have no words to describe it. I think this is because we cannot name what we can hardly comprehend.
For the first time, I remembered hearing the term “ social distancing” in the context of the fact that Chinese officials canceled the New Year’s celebration in February. It sounded like a bird’s-eye view of the term that could be applied when looking down at a colony of ants. By March, the preferred term was physical distancing , an acknowledgment that we are not trying to break social bonds, but simply physical intimacy. Of course, most of us stay at home and away from other people as much as possible, but physical distancing still seems out of place in widespread social upheaval.
What word does it mean to stay at home?
In common parlance, many of us talk about quarantine : #QuarantineLife, quarantinis . The technical meaning of quarantine, as the word is currently used in public health, is used to refer to a person suspected of carrying an infectious agent who is not yet clearly ill. In the meantime, someone showing symptoms is isolated .
Yet isolation is also a common word for loneliness. So, we are talking about self-isolation even outside the context of the disease. If you are alone in your apartment, you will definitely feel isolated.
In part, we stay at home because of prudence and also because we try to be tolerant of risk. But another aspect includes government regulations that require, for example, the closure of businesses. These are not exactly asylum-in-place orders , because the term derives from hazards such as active gunners and potential fallout. The stay-at-home order is closer to the truth, but in many places you can go for a walk. Calling it blocking or shutdown is also not entirely correct. You understand what I’m talking about: we do not have a word or phrase that would convey what we do and what we don’t do.
What’s the next word?
Health quarantine is an “on” or “off” state. You are in quarantine until you get sick or a certain time has passed; then you are free. The lock ends when you open the door. The order to stay at home could be canceled, and then, it is assumed, we will no longer have to stay at home.
If we could stop the virus from spreading with a hard two-week shutdown, we could stop it by simply reopening it . But this will not happen now.
Cities, states and countries will ease restrictions – if not now, then someday soon. We are already making compromises: hospitals and grocery stores are still open. Family members are quarantined (or as we call it) together. It may be necessary to remove some restrictions even before we completely take control of the virus.
We will be living in a gray zone, probably for many years, during which society will not be completely locked up, but also not completely open. This, too, will be unprecedented: should the restaurants open first or last? Where should schools belong? When can hospitals resume scheduled procedures ? If no one is stopping you from visiting friends , when should you consider it safe?
The word ” rediscovery” is not enough to describe it all, and I think that giving it a single open and closed name encourages us to think of it as a light switch. We were living our normal lives, and then suddenly everything went dark. But that doesn’t mean we can flip the switch in the opposite direction just as suddenly.
We need a new word for this. WHO talks about easing restrictions . Some governors talk about phases or levels .
What should we call all this? Is there a better word for “stay home when we can because we are afraid of contracting a terminal illness and / or do our best to follow orders that some of us agree with and some do not”? How about “getting close to people again while the fatal disease is still circulating”? What did you call this phenomenon? If you could invent a new word, what would it be?