Challenging Habitat Blog

Language is important.

This evening, the PM’s announcement of the third COVID-19 lockdown for England went quite well, by BJ’s standards, free of laments about his feelings having to announce bad news, for example…and free of promises that it’s all going to be over by ChristmasSpringsummer

…auto queue helped, of course, to keep on course…

…until he uttered the phrase “miracle of science” in relation to the vaccines.

In science, we don’t do miracles, neither do we believe in miracles. We work systematically and methodically and design experiments to test hypotheses that are based on what was done before and where creativity and innovation takes us.

On the other hand, ‘miracle’ is defined as “an extraordinary event attributed to some supernatural agency” (The concise OED, 8th ed 1990).

Two very different things.

P.S. This post is not about whether another lockdown in England is a good or bad thing. I leave that judgement to people with the appropriate expertise and experience.

Featured image: “Flu Vaccination Grippe” by Daniel Paquet is licensed under CC BY 2.0

What’s in a Word?

It’s not the first time during the past few months that the language politicians use in relation to the covid-19 pandemic leaves me somewhere between incredulity and hilarity.

If it wasn’t so serious, a lot of the latter.

Today I heard the PM of Great Britain and Northern Ireland utter the words ‘cavalry riding over the hill’ in the context of ‘vaccine’.


Really, how can that have happened?

The language of war is woven into many of these broadcasts and I can’t help thinking: how stupid!

But perhaps there is purpose behind the words.

Superficially, it just sounds as if the (mainly) men who use the language of war simply want to appear fighing and winning a war where there is none, so they look stronger, more decisive and better leaders than they really are.


But there is a more sinister side to this: the language of war induces fear. The control of the masses through fear is the tool of authoritarian regimes.

Perhaps that’s going a little far, bit it’s worth a thought.

On a lighter note, we’re back at stupidity: in a state of fear, we are stressed. Stress triggers the fight flight freeze response and that shuts down all sorts of natural metabolic functions, including the immune system, so the body can focus it’s energy on dealinf with the danger. For a short while, that ok, it’s what we evolved to do.

But covid-19 will be with us for a long time and months of chronic stress and fear are detrimental to health.

Chronic stress also affects sleep and with that, cognitive function.

Conversely, what we really need in a crisis is to maintain the capacity of each individual for clarity of thought and rational decision making, upon which we base our behaviour.

So, using the language of war is at best unhelpful and at worst, endangering public health and lives.

And that’s the opposite of what we wish for and deserve.

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