From 'alert' to 'zoom': Steven Poole's lexicon of lockdown

From A to Z, day by day,
a word a day


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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