The occasional ramblings of a freelance lexicographer

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Coronaversaries: rollouts and re-entry

It's a year ago this week that the UK went into its first coronavirus lockdown and I've spotted quite a few #coronaversary (coronavirus + anniversary) posts across social media as people share what they were doing a year ago and reflect on the past twelve months. So, it seemed like a good time to reflect on the language – or coronavocab – that's developed to describe life in an unprecedented year.

Looking back at my coronavocab posts from last summer, much of the language I highlighted has remained with us and become an all-too-familiar part of our everyday vocabularies; face masks, social distancing, hand sanitizer, lockdown, homeschooling. Some of the more light-hearted coinages also still float about in articles and blog posts; coronacoaster, covidiots, quarantinis, isobaking. But how has our language changed to reflect developments so far in 2021?

For a start, what we call the virus has gradually changed. It started off as coronavirus, but then got renamed (in Feb 2020, for the sake of accuracy) to Covid-19 and has, over time, just come to be known as Covid. Looking at some stats from the Coronavirus Corpus (which collects texts about the pandemic from across the internet), Covid on its own still seems to lag behind, but that's probably down to the fact that it's a corpus of written texts including a number of sources that likely prefer the full form. If you were able to look at spoken usage, I suspect Covid would shoot up the rankings.

Probably the most significant event to influence the way we're talking about the pandemic in recent months though has been the vaccine rollout. Much like lockdown/lock down and the other phrasal verbs in one of my earlier posts, rollout (noun) and it's accompanying phrasal verb, roll out, are not completely new words, but they have increased massively in frequency in a very short time and shifted slightly in usage. Previously, rollouts were predominantly business-related and to do with new products being launched (the rollout of the new iPhone). However, since Covid vaccines started being approved for use late in 2020, governments around the world have been setting up vaccine program(me)s to roll out the vaccine and offer as many people as possible a Covid jab (especially in the UK) or a Covid shot (more in the US).

The language around vaccines includes the everyday language we all use to talk about getting our jabs (in red), the language relating to getting vaccines out to people (in green) as well as still some discussion about their development and production (in blue). It will be interesting to see how the collocations in the red group shift and get added to over the coming months as the implications and effects of more people being vaccinated play out.

Looking forward, in the UK at least, there's starting to be lots talk of easing (of restrictions) and a flurry of re- words such as re-entry and readjustment both from a practical and a psychological perspective:

What are you looking forward to re-entering or concerned about readjusting to in the coming months?

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Sunday, March 14, 2021

A Time-out A-Z

What does a lexicographer do on her day off?

That's not the start of a corny joke, but a real question I found myself asking last week. After working flat-out on back-to-back projects for the past 5 months without a day off, I suddenly realized I was absolutely shattered and really needed a proper break from my desk. With some form of lockdown here in the UK since last autumn, it hasn't seemed worth taking time off because, well, what would I do with it? You can't go anywhere, nothing's open and you're only allowed to go out for exercise locally, which for me means as far as I can walk from home.

I enjoy walking and with my mileage dropping off over the past few weeks, I resolved to spend a lot of my week off getting some fresh air and exercise. But I've been stomping round the same handful of routes for the past year. On Monday, I did a long loop of Ashton Court Park, one of the few accessible large green spaces on this side of Bristol. After a slightly grey start, the clouds cleared and it was a lovely, sunny, 6-mile amble with a longer than usual (takeout) coffee stop and really nice not to be thinking about getting back to my desk:

On Tuesday, I had a lovely socially-distanced walk-and-talk with a friend around Bristol harbour in the morning, then with rubbish weather forecast for the rest of the week, went out for a wander around Leigh Woods - the other accessible green space - with my partner in the afternoon:

But what about the rest of the week? With all my usual walking routes already ticked off, I had to get creative ... and what better for an off-duty lexicographer than a city A-Z. I planned out a route that would take me along streets starting with each letter of the alphabet in turn, photographing each street sign as I went. I started out with two streets I've previously lived on and spent the next few hours squiggling my way around Bristol in a mix of sun, rain, wind and a massive hailstorm! This was the result ... and yes, I know I cheated a bit on J and X, but hey, my game, my rules!




The full A-Z was exactly 9 miles and lots of fun despite the weather. Many of the streets were familiar, but I went down a few I'd never explored before and just generally enjoyed doing something completely frivolous for nothing more than the satisfaction of completing it. And well, you gotta love an A-Z!

Total walking distance for my week off: just under 40 miles (64 km)!

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Monday, March 01, 2021

RSI Day 2021: pain in a pandemic

Yesterday, 28 February, was RSI Awareness Day. This year, even for those of us used to working from home, our work routines have been thrown up in the air and healthy working habits have gone a bit awry.  It's also been a fairly reflective sort of year, so I thought it might be time to talk about some of my pain-related ups and downs. To explain the past year though, I’m going to have to take you back a bit …apologies to those who’ve heard some bits of this story before.

I broke my right collarbone in a car accident. I was told it'd healed and was sent off to live fairly unbothered by it for the next 10 years or so.

After spending my 20s teaching abroad, I’d just switched to a desk-based job as a lexicographer when I suddenly started getting severe pains in my right hand, arm, shoulder and neck. I was initially diagnosed with RSI and after lots of appointments, discovered that my collarbone had never fixed properly but was wobbling around causing a generally unstable wonky top right corner and putting all kinds of stresses and strains on the nerves, tendons and muscles around it.

2000 onwards:
Having had lots of doctors more-or-less shrug their shoulders, I spent the following 20 years doing my best to live with increasingly debilitating chronic pain that affected my whole upper body. It limited my professional life significantly. Having gone freelance early-on to give me the flexibility to work how and when I could, I worked part-time hours, was careful not to take on too much and avoided jobs that would be too fiddly and computer-heavy. I tried various workstation set-ups, took lots of regular breaks, tried various forms of exercise and therapy.

Late twenty-teens:
By about 2018 though, things seemed to have hit a real low-point. The pain was getting worse and dominating my life more and more. I was taking bigger chunks of time off work between projects to recover and my personal life was getting narrower as I avoided more and more everyday situations that would cause me pain.

June 2019:
A chance comment on a Facebook thread about mindfulness apps led to a suggestion from Rachael Roberts that I take a look at Curable, an app aimed specifically at chronic pain sufferers. The results were pretty dramatic. It feels a bit silly to say that an app managed to ‘cure’ 20 years of pain in just a couple of weeks, but I think it was just the right thing at the right time and brought together a lot of ideas I’d been aware of for a while but hadn’t known how to act on. I won't go into the details, because we’d be here all day, but it basically centred around mindset and my attitude to pain. It didn’t fix my wonky shoulder, but I learnt how to turn the volume down on the pain that had started bouncing round my brain’s wiring out-of-control. I went from taking strong painkillers pretty much daily to maybe 3 or 4 times in 18 months.

Despite everything goin on in the world, 2020 on the whole was actually okay in terms of both my physical and mental health. After a fairly busy few months in the spring, work dropped off a cliff through the summer and I had 4 months with pretty much no work at all. Of course, it was all a bit worrying, but thankfully, I got government grants that kept me going financially and the weather was fabulous! My partner was out of work and being cooped up at home together wasn’t great, but with the good weather, we could use the garden as an extra room, there was lots of walking and gardening and we rubbed along fine.

Come the autumn, my work picked up again and I’ve been more-or-less flat-out since October – which is great, but maybe not so healthy. As the weather got worse, the days got shorter and my partner got more bored and despondent, I found myself spending longer stretches at my desk, avoiding leaving my office for my usual regular breaks because I didn’t want to be disturbed. By mid-December, I was getting tweaks in my shoulder. I partly put it down to the cold damp weather, but I knew that too much desk-time and increasing tension (mental tension leading to physical tension) were to blame too. By the end of the year, I was exhausted and at the end of my tether with no reserves of energy to draw on to do the clever, pain-subduing mind trick.

So far this year has been a tough slog; ploughing on with work, going out for fewer walks because I’m really feeling the cold in my joints, and feeling generally resentful and low. Thankfully, I know that I’ve always struggled with winter and I also know that I usually start perking up in March, so I’m hopeful that the advent of spring, along with the gradual easing of lockdown here in the UK will signal an upturn. I’m also just coming to the end of one work project and it looks like the next project I have pencilled in might be a bit delayed. So, I’m planning a much-needed week off. Of course, I won’t be able to go anywhere or do very much, but a bit more walking, perhaps a bit of pottering in the garden. If I can relax and recharge just a bit, then I think I can get my priorities back in perspective - even in these weirdly out-of-perspective times - and get my health back on track.

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