Abstract

In this article, we examine the impacts and effects of the words and terms now related to COVID-19 that have become globally pervasive in social discourse. Illustrating the ongoing interplay between words and politics, we demonstrate how terminologies may shape our interpretations of our experiences and affect the coping strategies we implement. Our arguments draw on Ali’s ethnographic fieldwork on health and illness in Pakistan—primarily on measles and vaccination campaigns in Pakistan’s Sindh province—and his comprehension of local languages and dynamics of power, and Davis-Floyd’s anthropological understandings of the power of language. We argue that using military vocabulary, e.g., “curfew,” “war,” “lock-down,” and the cleverly created “smart lockdown” in Pakistan generates a sense of great “danger” and allows governments to magnify the agency of the virus and to enforce “stringent” measures against its spread. The imported words we discuss herein blur local understandings not only about the virus but also about governmental policies. In contrast, accentuating the importance of local vocabulary, we also argue that local terms, such as “Chilo/â” instead of “Quarantinâ,” would have significantly helped people to make sense of COVID-19 and to take preventive action. We show that becoming conscious about the language used in a pandemic may significantly contribute to efficient ways to contain that pandemic in any country.

This content is only available as a PDF.
You do not currently have access to this content.