We’re at war: The language of COVID-19

Steve Howe
7 min readApr 7, 2020

Harry Potter’s nasally-challenged nemesis, Lord Voldemort, is so feared that he’s referred to as “He Who Must Not Be Named” by people of the wizarding world.

Much like a J.K. Rowling character, I find myself stumbling over my words as I talk about… you know… the situation we’re all in. The, um, current climate. These strange times. *Whispers* The virus thing.

I’ve heard others do it, too. It seems we’re all living under the “Voldemort effect”, not wanting to call out a chilling reality by its name. Although much lower on the Maslow pyramid of fears, it’s why we have so many euphemisms for things like periods, sex, and defecation.

Aunt Flo’s in town. Photo by Josefin on Unsplash

Then there’s people who just want a break from the subject. Because COVID-19 isn’t just an elephant in the room. It’s butting us in the face, crushing our thighs, and shoving its trunk down our pants. It’s exhausting. Talking about it indirectly is an attempt to look away, to catch our breath.

It feels futile. My Spanish teacher told me she’s prepared pandemic-free topics for her students. But within a few minutes of class, they’re back onto the virus. All roads lead to COVID-19.

So, if we’re going to be living with this elephant for a while, it’s worth looking into the language we use to talk about it.

War, huh?



Steve Howe

Writer for UX, games, and mental health orgs. Background in teaching, translation, and support for vulnerable people. Loves languages, long runs, and bad puns.