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Paul Strickland
Paul Strickland

Posted on • Originally published at


Language is a key part of my work. Junior engineers can often get frustrated at how we need to make minute changes to their writing. English is a language that seems to have many ways of saying the same thing, but sometimes the difference between similar words is crucial.

I was reminded of this when reading the news about the arguments made by "unnamed government sources" wanting companies to repopulate their offices so that those workers can go back to saving the economy. By saving the economy they presumably mean spending money on commuting and buying lunch in city centres (i.e. London), because the counter-argument is that many people have been working equally as hard (if not harder) from home and the benefits that can be gained by being in the same place are largely eroded by the needs to avoid being confined in small spaces with other people. As it was put it in a more succinct and brutal way by Marina Hyde in the Guardian, rather than "Stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives" 1, they would like us to "Leave home. Forget the NHS. Save Pret."

Anyway, what I noticed in particular is that the term used to advertise that workplaces or restaurants or gyms are suitable for people to return to is not that they are "safe", but that they are "COVID secure". This raises two questions:

  1. What does "secure" mean against a virus?
  2. Why not say "safe"?

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  1. Let's not even mention the problems with "Stay alert, control the virus, save lives" that replaced it, or the patronising tone that three-part slogans in general imparts on the public. 

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