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30th April - Thought For The Day - A New Language

Words by Bev Jones

A New Language

I’ve always found the English language fascinating. It’s not an easy language to learn, and it’s certainly not an easy language to teach, but it is dynamic – it changes and adapts, and nowhere is this seen more than in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), where quarterly updates identify those new and trending words, recognising that ‘great social change brings about great linguistic change.’

Photo by Joshua Hoehne via Unsplash

Covid19 – now a recognised term made up from a shortening of coronavirus disease 2019 - has done exactly that. As the disease has spread across the globe and transformed the lives of billions of people, a new vocabulary has been ushered in. Most of the words and phrases that are now part of everyday language have existed since the nineteenth century or earlier, but have now taken on very different meanings.

Social distancing used to be more attitudinal, now it’s very much a physical term concerning safety.

Self - isolation used to have political and economical connotations and referred mainly to particular countries. The implications now are very personal. So rapid is the linguistic change that is occurring – that the OED has issued an extra update in between its regular quarterly production.

What difference is the current language making to us though I wonder? Depending upon our circumstances, different words will mean different things to different people at different times, but certain words should have us all thinking more about others.

Self- isolation should remind us that there are huge groups of people that are potentially going through this crisis largely alone, and the church – scattered though it is, surely has a responsibility to ensure that those known to us, or those that we are aware of - feel very much part of a larger body. A caring, loving body who look outward rather than inward, and who put the needs of others at the fore.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez via Unsplash

Micah 6:8 says:

‘And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.’ NIV

Justice. Mercy. Humility. Three words that we need to grapple with in this present crisis. And not just to grapple with, but to live out in our daily lives, to support those most vulnerable in society.

I heard a lovely story the other day from Lancashire County Council. A school nurse describing how she took a 10 year-old boy for a socially-distanced walk and talk. A vulnerable child who the nurse wanted to check upon to make sure that he wasn’t going hungry. He told the nurse that he could go into school if he wanted, because he was on the ‘valuable list.’ The nurse didn’t correct him. Tweeting about the ‘happy accident’ later, the post was spotted by the Director of Children’s Services who was so moved by the little boy’s mistake and thought he had uncovered a bigger truth. She says:

“the reality is that children who have the most needs are incredibly valuable to us and should be spoken of in a way that recognises that fact. This means that we aren’t going to talk about ‘vulnerable’ children anymore, but rather ‘valuable’ children.”

What a difference it would make to our society if we just replaced the word vulnerable with valuable – and then acted accordingly.

- Bev Jones


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