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Do You Speak Covid?



Lindsay Hong, COO of Locaria, examines what the new global vocabulary emerging from the pandemic tells international marketers

Do You Speak Covid?
The impact of Covid-19 continues to be a global reality, with a seismic generational effect. As consumers seek to describe their new way of life, or express new experiences, their vocabulary has grown. 

Research by Locaria’s linguistic and cultural experts has shown that, while different languages have coined their own, often culturally-specific terms, the experience of living through a pandemic has driven global themes: 

1. Tribes 

It’s ironic, but something shared across the languages investigated, was the need to segregate ourselves into tribes. 

The term “Covidiot” has become commonplace in the UK, Germany, Italy and Spain (“Covidiota”) as a derogatory way of describing somebody who fails to take the pandemic seriously or denies the existence of Covid-19. In Italy, a similar tribe “I no mask” aka the anti-maskers, has emerged, picking up a similar structure used for the plural noun for anti-vaxers, “I no vax”. 

At the other end of the spectrum are terms used to describe people who take the pandemic extremely seriously, wishing to control and chastise others around them who may not do. In the Netherlands, this group is sometimes termed “coronazis”, while in Spain “policías de balcón”, painting a vivid scene of people shouting down from their balconies at those in the streets not wearing masks or maintaining social distance. In Japan, the term “自粛警察”, literally the “restraint police” is also becoming mainstream, achieving a search volume on Yahoo Japan of 18,100, at the time this research was conducted. 

2. Aesthetics 

From “Coronakapsel” in the Netherlands, meaning the first haircut after not having had one for months due to the pandemic, to “coronabdos” in France, referring to the weight gain from lockdown, how Covid-19 has affected our looks is another hot talking point. 

The term “maskne”, or spots due to prolonged use of a face mask, has become commonplace in English, German, and even Thai, where it has been used untranslated in mainstream media. Thai has a lot of tonal vowels and characters that require shifting keyboards, so shifting to English for a few letters is not seen as onerous. Search results using English terms can be more relevant than using a Thai transliteration. For example below, where the English word “maskne” is included, the results are directly related to the condition of maskne.

Using a transliteration of “maskne” into Thai characters, however, delivers results about face masks and face creams, not directly about the condition of maskne. 

Marketers and content creators need to stay close to how language is evolving on the ground and not assume that translated or transliterated terms are going to resonate better with local audiences. 

3. Way of life

Equally important to differentiating between tribes, has been expressing the new ways of living that people in many markets have had to adapt to, and their associated feelings.Using Social Listening Across the top platforms globally, a number of terms have emerged that are specific to local regulations or activities driven by the pandemic, a selection of which you can see below. 

Literally, “1,5 m-society”, referring to social distancing rules
Hoarding groceries
Filling in your authorization (attestation de déplacement) for work, travel, sports activities… when you are already in the street
Word play meaning “expensive masks”
The standard definition is “to stop-up” or “to rear-end”, but now also “to swab-test”
DADShort for “didattica a distanza”, remote teaching
Contactless delivery

Online courses. Also, increasingly, the negative feeling of struggling to manage home-schooling

Карантикулы / karantikuly
Quarantine holiday
Quarantine/ self-isolate
Non-essential outings
Three Cs: Closed spaces (密閉), Crowded places (密集) and Close-contact settings (密接)

4. Brands in everyday speech 

Popular global brands are sometimes used as verbs, with consumers choosing to “hoover” their rugs or “Google” something. In the case of Зумиться “zumitsya”, Russians have shifted the brand term for Zoom into “to have a Zoom meeting”.

French has developed “Whatsapéro” and “Skypéro”, meaning to share drinks with friends or family online using the relevant platform. The more generic term for online drinks in the time of Covid-19, “Coronapéro”, is now mainstream enough to have gained its own wiki

Don’t forget though that terms may work across markets and languages, but not always cultures. A “Whatsapéro” in France, will not work for french speaking markets where drinking alcohol is not the norm, such as Tunisia. 

In summary... 

Language moves fast. Marketers need to ensure their global campaigns are keeping pace with local developments on the ground. 

At Locaria, we support brands with global ambition to localise and transcreate content at scale. Our extensive multilingual talent network sits deep in-market, allowing centralised teams to get local insights, and in-market teams to feel fully supported. We use data and research to build objectively impactful content strategies. 

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