isolation/lockdown/quarantine

Recently I was asked to write a piece for an organi{s/z}ation about whether publications should be in "Global English". You'd think "Global English" would be relevant during a global pandemic. But the pandemic has illustrated that variation is the natural state of English around the globe. So far, I've looked into what people call the disease and the advice to 'stay (at) home'. Today's topic is what we're doing at home. 

Osman Faruqi posted this on Twitter, and Superlinguo Lawren Gawne copied me in:

Lucky for us, there's the Coronavirus Corpus, a wonderfully timely resource from Mark Davies and team at Brigham Young University, who are responsible for most of the corpora I cite on this blog. 

The Coronavirus Corpus is designed to be the definitive record of the social, cultural, and economic impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) in 2020 and beyond. 

Unlike resources like Google Trends (which just show what people are searching for), the corpus shows what people are actually saying in online newspapers and magazines in 20 different English-speaking countries.  
The corpus (which was first released in May 2020) is currently about 510 million words in size, and it continues to grow by 3-4 million words each day.

 And thanks to that corpus, we can see that Faruqi's intuitions are (orig. BrE) spot-on.

 


AusE during iso (which follows a general trend for clipping in informal Australian English) might be common in speech, but since the sources here are news-related, they have only a handful of during iso and about 80 times more during isolation.

It's worth noting here that the island nations don't follow their neighbo(u)rs. New Zealand has lockdown like British — though of course NZ's way of dealing with the pandemic has been very different from the UK way. Ireland looks more like Australia than like GB. (I'm never sure whether Davies' corpora are including Northern Ireland with Ireland. The use of Great Britain rather than United Kingdom indicates that they might, but since some Northern Irish websites are going to end with .uk and not .ie, I don't know how much trust one can put in that. I really should find out about it...)

Now, these expressions are not literally accurate. They're all talking about situations where people are advised to stay at home and some range of public places are required to stay closed. If you live with friends or family in Australia, you're not really 'in isolation', right? I've seen people in the UK saying that we shouldn't call it lockdown because that'll make people feel like they're being imprisoned and punished (and therefore more likely to feel justified in 'escaping'). I've seen Americans complain about this use of quarantine because most Americans are not literally quarantined. (Unlike me. I am writing this in the middle of my 14-day quarantine* after travel to the US. I am staying in a hotel room, dependent on groceries dropped off by my brother, waiting to be 'clear' to visit my dad. I am happily re-connecting with my hermit tendencies and may require careful reintroduction to society when this is over.) 

*Don't tell me that quarantine is literally 40 days. That's its etymology, not its meaning in current English.

But I'd argue that you don't have to worry about the accuracy of these phrases because (a) words can (and usually do) have more than one meaning/usage, and (b) I'd say we're using them more like proper nouns. While we don't spell them with initial capitals, notice how we are treating these words as the name of a particular time period, like Ramadan or October or (AmE) spring break or (BrE) half term. Proper names don't have to describe, as we know from names like Greenland. It's not an accurate descriptor of that place, but we know which place you're talking about if you say Greenland. Quarantine/lockdown/isolation is a particular time period associated with particular activities, just like Christmas(time) describes a particular time period with particular activities.

I'm often asked about my "Difference of the Day", which I've been doing every weekday on Twitter since mid-2009, and the question is always "Haven't you run out yet?" Not by (orig. AmE) a long shot/(BrE) a long way. And I'm never going to run out because we keep finding new ways to differ.

 

News

  • I've skipped a few weeks of blogging because of other writing gigs. One of them was to write a blog post for the Speaking Citizens project, which is researching (BrE) oracy education in the UK. My angle on it was to think about the differences in education cultures in the US and UK (related to my thoughts in chapter 8 of The Prodigal Tongue). If you're interested, you can read it here.

  • My big news is that I have been hono(u)red with a Public Scholars grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. It was a Public Scholars grant that allowed me time off from my day job to write The Prodigal Tongue. I'll have six months off from my university job to continue to work on my current project, which has the working title Small Words. Here's the synopsis:
  • Books about words often concentrate on the dialectal gems, the lost lexicons, the rare and peculiar species of the linguistic world. By contrast our most common words are given scant attention, mumbled in speech and glossed over in reading. We notice the weighty nouns, verbs and adjectives, but miss the slippery mortar holding them together: 'be', 'the', 'not', 'if', 'and', ‘of’, ‘it’. But poke those small words, and each opens up a world of discovery into human minds and cultures. Take ‘the’, as just one example. How can it be the most frequent word in written English, when many of the world’s languages have no need of an equivalent? Why does it cause trouble for Bible translators? Why does it feel different when an American speaks of ‘the Mexicans’ rather than ‘Mexicans’? Why do English writers use it less each year? This book synthesizes research from across the humanities and social sciences, allowing the small words to tell us stories about what it is to speak English and what it is to be human.
  • You'll probably see me blogging more about the little words in the coming months (or just blogging less). Of course, I've already blogged a lot about prepositions, conjunctions, determiners, and interjections here, so it's stuff I've been thinking about for a long time.

38 comments

  1. I assume public health officials wouldn't say "quarantine" when talking about the general situation, because they're used to using it in the literal sense (and because it's important to distinguish being quarantined, as you are now, from merely being isolated/locked down).

    Which makes me wonder if the reason it's being used so much more in the US than everywhere else is because everywhere else, the public health officials are leading the national conversation about COVID (and only using the word "quarantine" in the correct, literal sense), but in the US, they've mostly been sidelined, leaving the rest of us to misuse their terminology.

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    1. Even though I use "quarantine" much more than "lockdown" (like everyone else here), whenever I use it I find myself thinking that "lockdown" is actually more accurate than "quarantine" to describe the current situation. Nevertheless, "quarantine" is useful because it makes it clear that this is a public health crisis, whereas "lockdown" conjures up images of prisons.

      I would have thought that the "lockdown" connotation might be less strong in Britain, which I would expect not to have the same prison-industrial complex, but the British objections to "lockdown" listed suggest the same concerns.

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  2. Here in the UK, I was happy to use "lockdown" to refer to the first ... what was it, a month? When virtually everything was shut down and everyone was under orders to stay indoors except for the most necessary reasons.

    Since the restrictions began to be relaxed, I prefer to say "quarantine". It suggests that things aren't back to normal, there are still restrictions, but people are allowed to venture out and do more things. So it's not really a quarantine at all! But definitely not a lockdown.

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  3. I (an American) agree that 'quarantine' is probably the most used of the three choices (I think mostly at least because it implies a medical restriction rather than martial law), but the more common phrase would be something like "Stay at home order (at least in my state)." Finding a truly national term for this will be difficult in the US because the response has been led by state and local governments (and hence the predicament we are in) rather than that by the federal government.

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    1. Could you say 'during stay-at-home order', though? It doesn't seem comparable to the others in being a name for a time-with-associated-activities.

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    2. Oops - I replied when you did! Yes, I can - because these were official phases from the governor - "Stay at home", "Safer at home", "Protect your neighbors from home", etc.

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    3. ... as in the following newspaper article .. https://www.denverpost.com/2020/05/21/coronavirus-covid-colorado-hospitalizations-decrease/

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    4. sorry for the weird space formatting

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    5. Presumably you mean 'sorry about'? In BrE, there's a big difference between 'sorry for' and 'sorry about'. Perhaps Lynne has explained it somewhere?

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    6. Yes, used more often around here is "during the stay-at-home order" or "during shelter-in-place." Some areas of the US I read do not use the shelter in place because it is also used for natural disasters. But, during the time when things have opened up, just Pandemic is being used (since there are many areas that never really "stayed at home."

      But "quarantine" is very specific 14 days away from everyone because you have covid or may have been exposed. It is individual as opposed to an entire area.

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  4. Also to expound upon my previous statement, I'd tend to use 'quarantine' as a mandate to a specific person (for example if they tested positive or had been exposed), but the more general population shutdown was the "stay at home order." - I can even use the phrase for late March - early May as "during the stay at home order."

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  5. I was expecting you to say 'not by a long chalk', which is another British variant.

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    1. ‘Way’ was what presented itself more strongly in the Glowbe corpus

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  6. Here in the UK we felt the early shutting-down in China was draconian - even though it was effective, as we saw. Things got a bit more serious in early March when elderly (70+!) and sick people were advised to self-isolate, and in Scotland gatherings of more than 500 were forbidden. On March 15th the self-isolation order was imposed for twelve weeks - taking us in England to mid-June, which seemed a very long way off. Suddenly, on March 23rd, we entered 'lockdown', which seemed to echo the Chinese system, allowing once-a-week expeditions for essential shopping.
    I heard someone refer to the intervening week (15-23 March) as 'herd immunity week'; unfortunately the infection rate soared and we were told that the NHS might be overwhelmed, hence the move into lockdown.

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  7. "AusE during iso (which follows a general trend for clipping in informal Australian English) might be common in speech, but since the sources here are news-related, they have only a handful of during iso and about 80 times more during isolation."

    Lynne: I suppose clipping will always be less common in newspapers (online or otherwise) than in informal speech, but I thought I'd mention that clipping has been in vogue in the US off and on for the last quarter century at least. I recall a colleague at a job I had in the early '90s using the clipped "cazh" to mean "casual", and during the last year I've seen and heard instances of "deets" (short for "details", though not by much) and more recently, "inspo" (short for "inspiration"). Then there's "cray" and "cray-cray" for "crazy", with "cray-cray" making it clear that this is less a matter of clipping than it is of coming up with what would ordinarily be called diminutives. Speaking of which, in college I had a Russian girlfriend who came up with Russian diminutives for my own diminutive, Dick -- and these, too, seemed to be rather deliberately longer than need be. Examples I can recall are Dickooshka (sometimes shortened to the less effusive Dickoosh) and Dickoolinka.

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    1. Yes, I wasn't meaning to imply that others don't do it. Just that AusE has a reputation for it. In The Prodigal Tongue I address the claim that AmE shortens things more than BrE, with examples of BrE clippings that aren't in AmE as well.

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  8. Congratulations on your grant! I do hope you will be able to continue blogging about the "little words" - I have noticed that a Dutch friend, who speaks almost perfect English, does trip up on prepositions, referring, for instance, to "Hildegard from Bingen" rather than "Of Bingen".

    As far as I can tell, we in the UK had a period of lockdown - which may or may not be reimposed if we see a spike in cases in our particular area - but those who have been exposed to the illness (or who are at a higher risk than the general population of having been so exposed) are required to quarantine themselves. Two slightly different things!

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    1. The word I hear more for the latter case in BrE is 'shielding'. I probably should have mentioned that one in the post!

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    2. And the other phrase I have just realised you didn't mention is "social distancing" in all its forms - we had a socially-distanced lunch with family, and went on a socially-distanced holiday.... and are expected to respect social distancing in shops and so on.

      I think quarantining is slightly different to shielding, in that the former is only 2 weeks when you may have been in contact with the illness, and shielding is for those who would be at high risk if they caught it, so must stay away from people indefinitely.

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    3. The use of 'shield' is rather odd -surely the clinically vulnerable are 'being shielded' from exposure to the outside world.

      And then there is the use of social distance as a verb - 'you should social distance yourself when in town'

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    4. Of course 'Hildegarde from Bingen' would be perfectly OK except in the special context of famous people from history!

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  9. As an ESL teacher, the small words were the hardest to teach/explain. I corrected a non-native English speaker for saying "taking breakfast" instead of "having breakfast" because I thought he was translating directly from Spanish (tomar desayuno) then discovered that this is what IE (and perhaps BrE?) uses. Prepositions are nightmares as it varies even within the same region (standing on line vs. standing in line in New York State). I'm looking forward to your blogs.

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    1. "Taking" one's meals is a little old-fashioned, but still understood here.

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  10. BrE. Personally, I haven’t heard quarantine used much n the U.K. at all, even in tv news reports, except perhaps with reference to the terminology used in other countries. I tend to think of quarantine as a bit stronger than lockdown or self-isolation, which I hear at least as much as isolation on its ow. Quarantine conjures up visions of enforcement, with guards on the door, possibly armed.

    Lockdown doesn’t make me think of jail so much as military establishments. In Stargate SG1, the base unde Cheyenne Mountain was life vied down every other episode, and it happens reasonably often in NCIS. Yes, I watch FAR too much American tv.

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  11. Sorry. Life vied down should be locked down, and there are other typos as well. Sometimes spellchecker goes a bit crazy.

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  12. I recently contacted Lynne by e-mail, to point out that the listed archives only went back to Nov. 2006, even although I could go further back than that via links in some of the posts. She got her “web guy” to sort things out, and I am now really enjoying the posts that I had missed, gong right back to the very earliest days of the blog. Sincere thanks to a very consistent derate hostess.

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  13. I’m SURE that “consistent derate” read “considerate” before I hit publish.

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  14. This is a digression. I'm an older speaker of BrEnglish, but I've never encountered the word 'oracy' before this morning. I had to follow your link to find out what it meant.

    However, I suspect that part of the reason why (quoting AA Gill) "When Americans talk, they talk with ease and confidence. They seem more comfortable in their own mouths than the English do." isn't so much about 'oracy' as because from outside, it always appears that a lot more USians are extroverts compared with us.

    I'm afraid the 'ease and confidence' doesn't always coincide with expressive competence. US media personalities, film people etc. being interviewed seem to be even happier opening their mouths and talking poorly expressed drivel about themselves than our native ones are - and many of the latter are pretty bad.

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    1. @Dru. To me (BrE), oracy implies an above average dexterity with words. Perhaps I am associating it too closely with oration. With all due respect to my American friends (and strangers) I would tend to classify much of their speech as garrulous rather than inherently [whatever the adjective from oracy is]. Perhaps another way of putting it is: quality vs quantity.
      To be honest, until I looked up just now I didn't appreciate the passive overtones of understanding language as well as expressing it, which 'oracy' embodies.

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  15. I'm really looking forward to "Small Words"! I didn't think much about them at all until I started teaching English in Japan, and was asked to explain, clearly, concisely, and precisely, just when one used "a" vs "the". And I began to think, "Man, you could write a book on 'the' alone."

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    1. As someone who learn[t/ed] Latin at school (yes, that old), it always amazes me that we students never questioned the lack of definite/indefinite articles in Latin, yet all the modern Romance languages I am familiar with do employ them, many with 3 forms of definite article. I note that Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vulgar_Latin#Romance_articles] associates the adoption of articles with the spread of Latin as a spoken language rather than a written one, and that in many cases the modern articles, such as the French le & la or Italian il, lo and la, derive from the Latin demonstrative articles ille, illa, illud. Obvious now I see it, but not at the time I was learning the respective languages!
      (this comment contains 11 occurrences of the definite/indefinite article)

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  16. Living in California, I only ever hear and say "lockdown" for the general restrictions. "Quarantine" has a more specialized meaning: restrictions placed upon people upon arrival in an new area.

    Very surprised to see the corpus results indicating otherwise.

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  17. I have taken the online Contact Tracing course sponsored by John Hopkins. There IS a technical definition of Isolation and Quarantine.

    "Isolation" is used on those who are known or clearly suspected (symptomatic but can't be tested, reason to doubt a negative test) of being infected.

    "Quarantine" is used for those who may have been exposed to the disease but so far are not considered to actually be infected.

    The other terms have less agreement. In my experience some people are using the term quarantine tongue firmly in cheek.


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    1. Hope I am not being too persnickety, but it's JohnS Hopkins. We graduates can be a little sensitive about that.

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    2. And if you speak BrE, it's 'pernickety'. :)

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    3. I saw that when I looked up the definition to make sure I was using it properly. For me it's like envision/envisage. My American mouth has a hard time pronouncing the BrE version.

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  18. If you're looking at New Zealand, there was a lot of use of the word "bubble" in the messaging about the isolation/lockdown process. The idea being that everybody should be in their own little group of people, and the bubbles shouldn't mix. A bubble was generally one household, but might include the occasional extra people, for example one of my relatives included their elderly neighbours in theirs, and did all necessary shopping for them.

    Anyway, I noticed that at least some of my NZ relatives and acquaintances were using "the bubble(s)" as a term for the lock down itself, at least for a while.

    Quarantine was reserved for official, mandated and sometimes guarded periods after entering the country or having contact with known cases.

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  19. The second figure link is broken in the oracy article you link to. Couldn't see an easy way to flash it there so commenting here

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Abbr.

AmE = American English
BrE = British English
OED = Oxford English Dictionary (online)