Most people never heard the term “social distancing” until a few weeks ago. Perhaps some were initially confused by it. It kinda sounds like something Don Lemon and his guests do when they run into Trump voters. A more exact term would be “physical distancing.”
Yet somehow, Americans figured out what “social distancing” meant -- figured it out pretty quick, too. Because they understand germ theory. Even the Trump voters. So of course, The Washington Post found an academic who thinks it should change.
Writer Rebecca Gale says in a March 26 article that “Daniel Aldrich, a professor of political science and public policy at Northeastern University, is concerned that the term is misleading and that its widespread usage could be counterproductive.”
So what’s wrong with “social distancing?”
Aldrich said he thinks the semantics are misleading. “Some people think the [term] social distancing literally sounds like, ‘If I had friendships before, it’s time to hunker down. Or, if I were a member of a church or synagogue, it’s time to pray by myself,’ ” he said. “But the covid-19 order is going to be around for a while, and we need to feel connected.”
In other words, Aldrich thinks you’re an idiot unable to process language that isn’t strictly literal. Alright, maybe not you, the sophisticated Washington Post reader, but “some people.” The ones you dread seeing at Thanksgiving, perhaps.
Gale explains that “Aldrich says efforts taken to slow the spread of the coronavirus should encourage strengthening social ties while maintaining that physical distancing.”
And, “In a tweet, [Aldrich] lauded young people running errands for elderly neighbors for practicing “social connectedness with physical distance.” That’s nice, isn’t it? Thank goodness we have experts to encourage altruistic yet rational behavior. How did civilization weather thousands of years of storms, wars, plagues and pestilence without Northeastern University professors?
Aldrich has been pestering “his colleagues and decision-makers about his concern regarding the usage of social distancing, and he said some public health authorities and nongovernmental organizations are shifting their language accordingly.” According to Gale, “The World Health Organization has come to the same conclusion. Last week, it started using the term Aldrich prefers: ‘physical distancing.’”
Well if the super-smart, super-honest folk at the WHO are using it … the same WHO that’s been parroting the Chinese Government’s lies about the virus for months and is still at it?
But not everyone agrees, Gale found. “Lori Peek, a sociology professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder and the director of the National Hazards Center, said “social distancing” has already taken root.”
Unfortunately, Peek has only marginally more confidence than Aldrich in Americans’ mental acuity. Yes, “‘People understand what [social distancing] is,’ she said. ‘They are adopting it as individuals, and organizations are adopting policies that are rooted in this protective action.’”
But “‘Anything that could further confuse the public is really dangerous,’” Peek said. “Trust me, I am an academic. I love talking about language and words, but right now this is a matter of life and death.’”
So change the language because we’re too dense to understand it and act accordingly, or don’t change it because you’ll just confuse us more? If I didn’t know better, I’d think The Washington Post and the academics it loves quoting don’t think much of Americans’ intelligence.