Because Words Matter to Me

I have struggled at times with how to refer to my status during these COVID days.

Working from home? That’s true, but it doesn’t even remotely carry the weight of all the social distancing protocols we’re trying to adhere to for safety. Homebound? That has a bit more of the “stay in the fucking house” energy that we’re living with. But it’s not a true name, since I am heading out of the house every 7-8 days or so on some quick essential errand.* Sheltering-in-place? That’s close to accurate, since Gov. Baker is certainly encouraging folks to stay home, and since my “work-at-home” status is indeed driven by the fact that our offices are closed. But there’s isn’t an actual honest-to-Gaia shelter in place order for MA, so that phrasing still isn’t entirely true.

woman isolation

For the most part, I keep coming back to the term “lockdown” as the closest useful analogue I can find to describe my and my family’s status during this particular wave of the pandemic.**

But the one thing I won’t be calling it? Quarantine.

Now, I’m not writing this as some holier-than-thou screed where I want to word police anyone who does choose to talk about their social distancing status as being “in quarantine.”

For one thing, I don’t rule any of y’all, so as long as you’re not saying anything catastrophically deceptive or that’s hate speech, it’s not my business, really. For another thing, this particular horse has well and truly done left the barn. (Gunfight at the Quarantine Corral?) I’m seeing that phrasing everywhere. In the way my friends are talking about their lives. In the popular press. And so on.

But the reason I am continuing to split this particular linguistic hair in my own patterns of speech and writing is encapsulated by a sentiment one of my grad school friends uttered when sharing the story of he and his wife’s infection with and (yay!) recovery from COVID-19. To paraphrase:

There is a HUGE difference between keeping safe by staying at home 95% of the time and being completely dependent on others to provide you with food and other supplies.

And there is. There just is.

The precise definition of being quarantined—as shown in its ongoing use by the CDC and other government agencies—is to be in a situation where you literally cannot leave your habitat (whether that be home or hotel) because you have been demonstrably exposed to or infected by Sars-CoV-2.

No essential errands, either grocery or packie runs. Nothing. If you run out of anything, if you have any unanticipated need, if you need a prescription filled (like, perhaps a rescue inhaler?), you need to ask someone you know (whether well or barely at all) to go out and aquire that thing and bring it to you and leave it outside your door at a safe distance.

And I love my theatre family, and I know if Matt and I ended up in honest-to-Gaia quarantine that we absolutely have people who would do that for us. But, even just imagining this as a momentary hypothetical?

The vulnerability, the dependency, feels so huge.

So I am choosing to keep a bright-line distinction between the term “quarantine” and the handful of terms I rotate through when trying to capture the tone of how we’re living right now. Because words matter to me.

More than that? Because I want to remind myself that however stressful this is, however many off days I have, that I am still so damn lucky.


*Which today included picking up a prescription at the drugstore and replenishing our wine and vodka stores at Kappy’s. Essentials are essentials, after all…

**Forgive the grim prediction, but I am more and more certain that we will need to have more waves of social distancing in the months to come.


Image credit: Pexels (and yes, I saw the image name). Free to use.

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