As a verb, “to zoom” means to move very quickly, particularly while making a humming or buzzing sound. In this form it was coined onomatopoeically in the 19th century, but it now has a new meaning owed to the videoconferencing corporation of that name, founded in 2011 but unknown to most till recently: shall I Zoom you? Can we Zoom? As an exclamation, says the OED, “zoom!” “frequently used to express a sudden swift movement or (figurative) a rapid change, as a sudden rise or fall in fortunes”, which is after all quite appropriate for these times, as well as for Zoom’s own stock price.
The word “alert” comes from the Italian “all’erta”, literally “at a high place”, describing a military watch or guard duty. The UK government’s advice to “stay alert” in order to “control the virus” therefore implied that it would be easier to spot an invisible microbe if one were standing on a hill. Perhaps the underlying motivation for this much-ridiculed slogan was that it set the rhetorical scene for future spikes in deaths to be blamed on the people themselves. Did you die of Covid-19? Too bad: you weren’t alert enough. Survival of the fittest, and all that.
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