Posted by: 2thdocbob | 27 July 2020

Viral Reflections, Part One: Words Matter


This is the first in a short series of reflections on the COVID-19 pandemic and how it has affected me.

My world has been very different during the past four-plus months. How about yours?

As I adapted to working from home and decided how to respond to the manifold changes, I discovered that government and media were using inflammatory terms to describe both the pandemic conditions and what was expected.  Here are some of the terms and my comments on why they don’t fit.

Quarantine: the name comes from a 40-day isolation when you are sick with a highly contagious disease
Shelter-in-Place: what you do when there is an active shooter
Stay at home order: kind of a blend between house arrest and shelter-in-place
Lockdown: what prisons do when the inmates are unruly
House arrest: for convicted criminals; usually involves an ankle bracelet
Confinement: what they do when you’re in jail (see solitary confinement)
Seclusion: what Greta Garbo wanted
Isolation: what every good introvert wants more of
Social distancing: not desirable; physical distancing is what is needed.

And a few that I haven’t heard:

Sequestration: what they do to juries in the serious trials
Withdrawal: wait a minute, that’s done willingly

The choice of words by both government and media seem to have been calculated to instill fear in the general public. In my mind, these word games are grossly unethical. They cause more harm than good to society, and when you think about it, they are not honest. What happened to honesty in public discourse? That is a topic for another post, but since I teach a dental ethics and jurisprudence course every summer, I have had some time to ponder questions like that.

I chose to refer to March 12 as “The Shutdown,” in reference to my employer being required to transition to remote teaching and working from home. I usually speak of “isolation” when I talk about what we were ordered to do, because in reality, we were free to come and go as we pleased. We just couldn’t go to church or buy much of anything that isn’t available at Walmart or the grocery stores.

This is exactly why I question the honesty of government and media. I have seen far too many people on social media who complain of cabin fever, because they think they can’t leave their own property. When an order was issued that affected me, I read the actual order, not the news article purporting to tell us about it. (I do that with some Supreme Court decisions, too; call me strange if you want to.) We were not affected by any “hard” restrictions. I found many loopholes that allowed us to visit wildlife sanctuaries and other nature areas and enjoy fresh air and sunshine.

In fact, Governor Nuisance listed nature photography as an acceptable outdoor activity. So in theory, if you carry a camera with you outside, you can do what you want, within reason. We really are nature photographers, so we took advantage.

I don’t want this to become a political discussion, but it seems to many of us in California that our local officials are exercising undue authority over the populace in the name of protecting us. I have reason to doubt their motives. The ethical question of when emergencies override constitutional and other legal rights comes into play. It is a complicated discussion, and I don’t claim to have the answers. In connection with that question is the legal question of whether or not a government order actually has the force of law.

Watch out for “weasel words”[1] in news releases and government orders. If you recognize vague, but important sounding phrases, you’ve spotted weasel words. Jimmy Buffet wisely said:

“If I were you I’d just keep driving
Past all this useless and important information”[2]

Enjoy your quarantine! (Or whatever you choose to call it.)


[1] Weasel Words.

[2] Buffett, J. Useless but Important Information.

Thanks to for the quote at the beginning of the post.


  1. As a fellow Californian I do share your concerns with Nuisance Newsom and his cronies exploiting the pandemic for political gain. I don’t think he is too bright to be honest with you but that’s for another post.

    It is interesting the phrases that you listed and how they’ve been drilled in to our heads. They definitely cause harm and are meant not just to instill fear but also disparagement among people. If you disagree with “stay home/stay safe” for example it means you are a bad person and must be called out for not “obeying.”

    I prefer the term, “stay free!” anyway. 😉


  2. Tricia,
    Thanks for your comments. I like “stay free” better, too.


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