The coronavirus pandemic is a global phenomenon, but different countries have adopted different responses to it according to their local circumstances and traditions. This is true not only in terms of public-health measures, but also in terms of the language used to describe the disease and its consequences.
In the case of Australia, the linguistic changes can be seen most clearly in informal language, as might be expected when colloquial Australian English delights in shortening everyday words and often adding a cheerful ‘-o’ at the end, so that a garbage collector becomes a ‘garbo’, and a conversation is a ‘convo’. Some of these short forms have even caught on in other parts of the world, thanks in part to exported Australian soap operas such as Neighbours. Journalists are now routinely called ‘journos’ and students will refer to their university as the ‘uni’ without being conscious that they are using Australianisms.
The same process of creating informal short forms has been observed in the way Australians have responded to the coronavirus. The pandemic is sometimes referred to as the ‘pando’, and a period of enforced isolation as ‘iso’. If you are unlucky, you may test ‘posi’, or positive, for the virus. Hand sanitizer is ‘sanny’, and quarantine is called ‘quaz’, ‘quazza’ or ‘quazzie’. The coronavirus itself is often called the ‘rona’, although that particular shorthand has also caught on in other countries.
However, the coronavirus pandemic has also generated a few Australianisms that are not simply abbreviations. A person who buys up large quantities of goods and stockpiles them in anticipation of shortages is referred to as a ‘magpie’, on account of the bird’s noted fondness for collecting shiny objects. You can even use this word as a verb, meaning to stuff your shelves and cupboards full of goods that you might want to have around in an emergency. Even cheekier is the ‘bonk ban’ – a popular moniker applied to the complete prohibition of visits to different households during lockdown.
Written by Ian Brookes, writer and editor.
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