Chronicle of COVID vernacular provokes, entertains


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Author Wayne Grady explains his neologism title right off the hop — by defining it: “Pandexicon: a lexicon of the pandemic.”

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Author Wayne Grady explains his neologism title right off the hop — by defining it: “Pandexicon: a lexicon of the pandemic.”

But neither title, nor subtitle (ostensibly a further heads-up of his book’s contents), does it justice.

While it’s about the language of the pandemic, it is about much, much more. At base, it’s a deft mini-history of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Grady, a Kingston, Ont.-based veteran Canadian writer and editor, is the author of three novels and a dozen non-fiction works.

Subjects are introduced by a defined buzzword, phrase or scientific term — Covidivorce, herd immunity, Corona baby, endemicity, social bubble, vaccine nationalism, PCR test, hydroxychloroquine, long-term care facility, to cite a few — that has become current or popular. The word or term then becomes the springboard to consideration of a substantive aspect of the pandemic.

Along the way Grady chronicles the West’s, particularly America’s, long dismissal of scientific predictions of the global pandemic we got, and still have. He tilts toward blaming right-wing politicos for much of our flight from scientific reason, but acknowledges wilful ignorance has been known to cross party and ideological lines.

His research, and his user-friendly presentation of it, are impressive.

But not uniformly.

For example, the phrase “lab-leak theory” sends Grady off into a multi-page review of the arguments pro and con that COVID’s genesis was from a man-made “gain of function” strain — essentially a super-charged virulent variant of the virus naturally found in bats — that accidentally escaped from a lab, the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), in Wuhan, China.

The other prevailing theory is that it leapt to humans from bats sold in a Wuhan market.

After carefully balancing the arguments, he suddenly, and inexplicably, leaps to a conclusion in his final sentence: “Most virologists now agree that the pandemic started in the wet market, not in a lab at the WIV.”

This isn’t correct. No one knows for certain how COVID-19 leapt to humans, and likely no one ever will know for certain. The “secretiveness of the Chinese government,” to quote Grady himself, has seen to that.

However, the preponderance of scientific evidence suggests the opposite of his conclusion.

As former head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Dr. Bob Redfield has explained, “it doesn’t make biological sense for a pathogen to go from a wild animal to a human and spontaneously be extraordinarily efficient at human-to-human transmission. It takes a while for pathogens to gain that level of fitness or function.”

That gaffe aside, Grady, a master wordsmith, adeptly tackles everything from epidemiology and medical terms to public-health issues and anti-vax politics. Even complex scientific issues are dealt with rigorously, yet imaginatively.

Pandexicon at once educates, provokes and entertains.

Douglas J. Johnston is a Winnipeg lawyer and writer.

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