“Rona-speak” might just have a place in this crisis


A SURPRISE fall-out from the unprecedented global chaos of COVID-19 has been the need for Australians to master a new dictionary of informal terms and expressions to describe the impact of the pandemic in our midst.

Those expressions – often more akin to slang – sit alongside the growing raft of technical terms that did not feature in our vocabulary just one month ago. Consider, for example, terms such as social distancing, lockdown (not related to nightclub closing hours), isolation, self-isolation, flattening the curve, contract tracing, contactless delivery and community transmission (not a free-to-air television service).

These terms sit alongside epidemic and pandemic, incubation period, zoonotic, immunocompromised, immunity, asymptomatic and epidemiology.  

You would think that during times of crises clarity ought to take priority over the Aussie sense of humour. After all, is it not hard enough to get our head around all these medical and technical terms that have become common-speak over the past few weeks?

While informal expressions might confuse or bewilder some, there is a case for selective use of “rona-speak” terms because they more powerfully highlight or draw our attention to some of the behaviours – both good and bad – that we are witnessing in our workplaces and in the broader community.   

In the interests of clarity or being able to understand your colleagues and others in the community, it is wise to brush up on this corona slang, or “rona-speak”, even if you draw the line at actually using any of it yourself. 

While its origins remain unknown, “rona-speak” most likely had its roots deep in supermarkets aisles when so-called “magpies” took control of a range of sought-after products including toilet rolls, hand sanitiser, pasta and flour amid widespread fears of looming supply shortages. 

Greedy customers were accused of flying into supermarkets and swooping on those products just like magpies do when they spot a shiny or valuable object from afar or feel threatened.

Those panic buyers became known as “magpies” and items that were stripped from supermarket shelves were said to have been “magpie’d”. The rest is history. 

As the very real threat of COVID-19 took hold, many of us developed something that became known as “coronaphobia” – an intense fear of this virus.  

A fear of the disease spreading prompted many of us to cancel bookings at public places such as restaurants and bars in a practice that became known as “coroncellations”.

“Coroncellations” resulted in many “coronavoids”, or empty venues to be more precise. Severe economic conditions, we were told, might also spark a “coroncession”.

People were urged to use “sanny” (hand sanitiser) and encouraged to go into “iso” (self-isolation) if there was any thought they might have been exposed to this novel coronavirus.

Businesses that were hit hard by the crisis were urged to look for “coronortunities” – new opportunities to deliver services – and encouraged to embrace “contactless delivery” (no explanation needed).   

Some took up the challenge and engaged in “coronawashing” (think: whitewashing) by marketing existing products as being of help in combatting the virus, even if they were not.

For the main part we are encouraged to stay at home wherever possible, giving rise to the term future “coronials” – those conceived during home quarantine. Try explaining that at your offspring’s 18th birthday party in 2038.  

There is also concern that those staying at home might overindulge on food and beverages and suffer from “COVID-10” – the condition of gaining 10kg while hunkered down at home. 

And to keep us occupied during downtime stints while WFH (working from home) many of us are engaging in some “quaranstreaming”: binge viewing during quarantine. 

Older citizens, in particular, are encouraged to remain “cocooned” and all of us have been told we should not mix with those outside of our “bubble” (those we reside with).

Younger students who are stuck at home with their parents are urged to continue their schooling via online platforms but frequently enjoy a “coronacation” – an extended break from school.

As we heed warnings many of us have become “coronavirtuous” – doing everything correctly – and some have even taken on the role of “caremongering” by engaging in acts of kindness with others to ease their anxiety.

But as certain as day follows night, amid these turbulent times we also continue to encounter far too many “covidiots”.

These are self-centred people who fail to understand what it means to keep a safe distance from others and who put the community at risk by ignoring calls for self-isolation.  

The breed of “covidiots” can also extend to those with an insatiable fetish for toilet paper and a high-carb diet fuelled by a voracious appetite for pasta and other flour-based dishes – often at excessive volumes and therefore at the expense of others scrambling to secure much-needed supplies.

Thankfully, though, the “covidiot” curve appears to be on the decline – a real relief because stupidity can also be very contagious.   

The “covidiot” nevertheless remains a worthy addition to any vocabulary, particularly at these testing times when we need everyone to do the right thing.

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