Certain words and phrases spring into prominence during emergencies.
For the past year we have been subjected to sound bites on breakfast TV and tiers before bedtime. So many that they have become platitudes. But good things no longer come to those who wait and time doesn’t heal all wounds. As Shakespeare pointed out, we have all seen better days.
It is astonishing how many everyday words and phrases were introduced by that fellow (my fellow writer, ha ha) William Shakespeare more than four centuries ago. Incredible, too, that most of his coinages have survived in colloquial speech until the present time rather than vanish into thin air. (That’s one of his — and also where most of my coins disappear.)
A friend recently informed me his grandson had asked him, “What’s a pencil sharpener?” and this caused me to reflect that modern progress has eliminated some obsolete words while introducing others that would have flummoxed the Bard of Avon. I suppose such developments are a foregone conclusion (Othello) in this brave new world (The Tempest) that we inhabit.
Future adults — shall we call them children? — will grow up with a head stuffed full of the vocabulary of the virus. They will be fluent in Covid-conversation regarding Oxford vaccines, Indian variants and South African mutations, without having visited any of those locations. Pandemic-speak requires no travel documents.
They could tell Shakespeare a thing or two about droplet transmission and super spreaders, to which he might simply retort, “The miserable have no other medicine but Hope.” (Measure for Measure). He didn’t know about vaccines, you see.
But the man from Stratford did know a thing or two about plagues, of course, because they caused the closure of his Globe Theatre for over 6 years.
He self-isolated in Stratford, and wrote Macbeth there, a play in which Lady Macbeth’s hand-washing routine lasts for fifteen minutes, which is more than twice the recommended time for modern plagues. Admittedly, she was dealing with imaginary bloodstains, notoriously difficult to remove, even with all the perfumes of Arabia in your bathroom cabinet.
Will would have been puzzled by people preferring one vaccine over another: “What’s in a name” he would have asked, “as long as it’s in the arm?” (That last bit was mine.)
Rather than the commemorative plaque I hoped for, my school was long ago dismantled and removed from my town’s record books, but I still remember learning items of vocabulary there that are no longer in current use. Vinyl records were called singles or 78’s or 45’s or EP’s or LP’s — try asking for any of them nowadays and you’ll be directed to a charity shop, or they do me, once they look at my clothes. Likewise combs, which no one seems to have any use for any more, and digital cameras and extended warranties.
Or is it me? When you are refused Identity Theft Insurance, are you out of date? (And how does that work anyway, are they confident the payout is going to the right person?) But I feel someone plucking at my sleeve, telling me that brevity is the soul of wit. Now who could that be, I ask myself. But the rest is silence. (Hamlet.)