Yesterday, Charlie was explaining to me how his school will approach the coming weeks/months. He’ll be teaching his courses online, asynchronously, and wrote, “We have office hours during class time.” Because so many people are still going into work, I jumped to thinking he would be expected to show up at the school to meet with students individually:

After my flabbergasted response to the exchange above, he clarified. They’ll be meeting via google hangouts, etc. It dawned on me that this was a moment of witnessing the evolution of our language.

Language functions as communication because there’s a collective understanding of the relationship between the sounds and symbols of verbal exchange, and their meanings. It works pretty well most of the time, but not always. Language is alive. It evolves. Words and phrases come and go, and denotations/connotations change over time. When was the last time you heard someone (other than your grandparents) use “gay” to mean happy, for example. And did you have a moment of feeling old when you finally figured out that your teen confessing that they “spilled tea” did not refer to dropping their mug but to revealing a juicy bit of gossip?

Since the time when our relationships added online connection to other forms of interaction, most of us have used the shorthand, F2F/face-to-face to distinguish online versus in-person meetings.

Now, suddenly, pandemic crisis has shifted that. Charlie IS meeting F2F with his students–they will see one another’s faces, in real time, and they will connect. Except they will not be in the same room. And so the language evolves. I wonder what term people will use to denote physical presence with one another when we finally emerge from this crisis? More disturbingly, I also wonder whether the need to distinguish between physical presence and virtual presence will become archaic. I hope not.

I started a Facebook post after this as I tried to brainstorm other meanings that were shifting during these times, but didn’t come up with much yet, other than:

“Corona” no longer brings to mind Mariachi and tacos; “I need space” is no longer an emotional request; and “Presidential Leadership,” –if it hadn’t already–has become an oxymoron.

8 thoughts on “F2F: On evolving language in pandemic

  1. To be honest, all this communication via internet and even on the cell phone is scaring the hell out of me. I wasn’t that comfortable with it before, but since taking on-line classes, I feel that not only is my time not my own, but just how many people are in the room with me? It brings on a state of “love me/leave me alone that is hard to reconcile, and just how safe are we out there, and just who is listening? I had no idea “spilled tea” meant revealing a juicy bit of gossip. That’s where the problem lies for me. My thirst for knowledge and connection has brought me to this place that I don’t trust to keep me safe. Excuse my use of “lies” in the above situation. I gave up trying to figure out if it is “lays” or “lies” and looking it up just made it more confusing. Thank you, Jazz, for bringing up this topic. I have only felt this discombobulated one other time in my life, which tells me I have some serious thinking to do.

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    1. I agree that full-on digital communication, studies, and work seem to break down what fragile boundaries we have between our alone-time and all the pressures our outside lives bring to bear. These days if you don’t answer texts or emails right away, people think you’re ignoring them! I’m also cognizant of the “who’s listening?” concern–a while back an insurance company hacked my facebook page (long story) and it led me to turn away from facebook almost completely. Just last week, I started it again…still have a love/hate relationship with it. The only reason I know about a lot of shifts in phrases (like tea=gossip) is that I taught adolescents for many years, my not-exactly-a-spouse is a high school teacher, and I have an 18 and 23 year old (who are usually the ones who “school me” in current usage. BTW, I have a undergraduate and graduate degree in English, and I still sometimes have to look up lie vs. lay. You used it correctly. This is a helpful hint: lay is transitive and requires an object to act upon…I lay something down, or something is laid upon me. Lie is intransitive, describing something moving on its own or already in position…the problem lies in the conflict, or the bed lies in the bedroom. What I always trip on is that the past tense of “lie” is “lay”! Argh English is so tricky!

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  2. Thank you for the English lesson, it is quite helpful. I had to laugh at that last line. Quite frankly, I’m finding I might have a bit of ADHD since starting these classes, which seems to get exacerbated by eating sweets (Moose Tracks Frozen Yogurt and dark chocolate candy bars). Of course, with stress, those are my go-to’s. I’m just going to have to put a lid on it before I make a complete fool out of myself. You deserve a lot of credit for having the patience to work with adolescents. It helps to know that I am not alone in my feelings about the internet.

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  3. Jazz: What a wonderful way to begin my day! Picking and choosing what I want to read (listen to) always reminds me that it is my decision whether to engage or not engage. As a bit of an extrovert I am energized by contact with others – in whatever form. I admire those who can re-charge in their alone spaces and then be ready to deal with the rest of us. By the way, I always look forward to your contributions. Please keep it up!

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