Linguist and lexicographer Ben Zimmer analyses the origin of the words that appear in the news. Read the previous paragraphs here.
It all started with a bad hair day.
The morning of the 11th. April,
a kindergarten teacher in Portland, Oregon, had her driveway tested for Covid-19 after a chronic fever. Because she hadn’t washed her hair, she put on a trucker’s hat with a picture of a squirrel and took a selfishness, which she shared on social media.
Two days later his test came back positive. Later that month, after talking to other people with Covid and still suffering from a series of chronic symptoms, she decided to start a support group at
I was sitting in the living room, and the hat I was wearing was on the coffee table, Miss Watson told me. The trucker cap got her thinking about long haul trucking and inspired her to create the Long Haul Covid Fighters Facebook group.
Amy Watson with a hat and the picture that started it all.
Thanks to Amy Watson.
As the group grew, the members began to refer to each other as truckers. People use that term, Watson says, because it has been validated as a patient group to give us a name for what we are going through.
At the beginning of the pandemic, health workers did not know what to do with the symptomatology of these surviving covids and had no name. But in early June, the term trucker began to appear in the media, starting with an article by Ed Yong Atlantic, and the medical community soon caught on.
At a congressional hearing in September,
Dr. Anthony Fauci.
has reported patients with debilitating symptoms such as fatigue, myalgia, fever and lack of concentration weeks and months after Covid-19 recovery. They’re called truckers, Dr. Fauci said, which gives the term a special meaning.
Even though it is not necessarily the most scientific term, it is immediately understandable.
Today, truckers’ stories are at the heart of how scientists, doctors and politicians see the long-term effects of the coronavirus. As explained in a recent article in the journal Social Science & Medicine, researchers try to keep track of what patients report in online support groups such as Watson’s. Co-author
a researcher at University College London, is himself a truck driver and referred to the postviral state on Twitter in May as long as Covid. Trucker and Long Covid are rapidly becoming standard terms in the medical field.
A digital marketer in Beverly, Massachusetts, and the administrator of Watson’s group saw the term trucker explode in popularity. Ms Porter, who follows the most recent research and policy initiatives on the Covid-19 recovery awareness website, told me this: Even if it’s not necessarily the most scientific term, you immediately understand what it is – you don’t even have to explain it.
More words on the road
The trucker’s metaphor is known, at least by those whose first language is English. The Oxford English Dictionary dates back to 1839 in the United States for the transportation of goods or passengers over long distances. Towards the end of the 19th century. In the beginning of the 20th century it was also used figuratively for a tedious or complex task or process.
As early as 1887 the term ‘longhaul trucker’ was used in American newspapers to refer to those who transported goods through the country by rail. With the advent of commercial truck traffic after the First World War, truck drivers set off. In a 1923 article in the Los Angeles Evening Express, the president of a car company stated that truck drivers who travel locally consume more gas than truck drivers on the state highway.
Watson is in turn pleasantly surprised that the stupid decision to name a Facebook group after her favourite trucker cap has resulted in an important addition to Covid 19’s lexicon. And she hopes that her stamp will make the public aware of the chronic diseases that patients like her still experience months later. I never thought it would get this far, she says.
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Published on 2 January 2021 in the printed edition under the title When Covid 19 Symptoms Persist and Persist.
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