The pandemic update from Britain (and elsewhere): arms, archeology, and apps

Rest easy, people. Someone is addressing the Covid-19 crisis. The Academie Francaise has announced that we’re dealing with la Covid, not le Covid. In other words, the virus is grammatically female.

The French language divides its nouns into male and female, and which gender a noun belongs to has nothing to do with any intrinsic quality of the thing itself. Nobody knows whether a sandwich considers itself more female than male, and nobody except the sandwich cares. A linguist could explain it all to you (and I’m looking forward to whatever comments you leave, my friends), but in the meantime, as far as I can see, you deduce the word’s femininity or masculinity out of a sixty-forty mix of thin air and history, which you whip until the resulting froth looks inevitable. 

In this case, the Academie decided that the root of the word Covid is maladie–illness–which is already feminine, so Covid is also feminine. And since this is all about getting the language right, I apologize for missing the accent mark in Academie: I’m writing this first thing in the morning and my accent marks are asleep.  

Irrelevant photos: Hydrangeas.

In the absence of the Academie’s decision, though, people started calling it le Covid, making it masculine. Will they change? No idea. On the one hand, French speakers seem to take the Academie seriously. On the other hand, language is a slippery beast and it can slither out of even the most powerful hands. 

Spanish is (I think–let me know if I’m wrong) closer to English in not recognizing anyone’s final authority over the language, but the Real Academia de la Lengua Española has just decided that Covid is feminine. To date, it’s been predominantly masculine, or at least people have written and spoken it as if it is. What’ll happen next? You’re on the edge of your chair, aren’t you? We’ll just have to wait and see–if we can remember to check back.


So what’s the news on coronavirus immunity? Not much. No one knows yet if having had the virus gives you immunity. I mention that because so many people are sure they know what the scientists don’t.

Arne Akbar of the British Society of Immunology said that an antibody test “does not tell us if these antibodies will stop you getting sick from Covid-19 in the future or how long any protection generated might last.” And just to complicate the picture, he also said, “The immune system is extremely complex and there are lots of ways that it can generate immunity, antibodies being only one.”

So what good does antibody testing do? It can help experts figure out how many people have had Covid-19 and what its spread is. 

Some 10% of Londoners may (emphasis on may) have been infected with it, and maybe 4% of the rest of the country. At this stage, so much isn’t known (and so many people talk as if it was) that you’d be wise to stock up on wishy-washy words: suggests, probably, may, might, and could, possibly are all available from my Etsy shop. I’ll give you 20% off if you let me know that I referred you to me.


And while we’re talking about bargains, the British government spent almost £20 million buying up drugs that Donald Trump claimed would cure Covid-19. I can’t say for sure that the two things are linked, only that they both happened.

What did it get for its money? Chloroquinine phosphate, choloroquinine, hydroxycholoroquinine (those are normally used for malaria and other diseases), and lopinavir/ritonavir (normally used for HIV). 

What’s my problem with that? As yet, there’s no scientific evidence that they’re any use against Covid-19. They might be. They also might not be. The New England Journal of Medicine reported that one trial of lopinaetc. showed no “observable benefit.” 

But that’s a minor objection. The real one is that they’re horrible words to type. You have no idea why I have to go through here. On top of which, lupus patients use hydroxyetc. and are worried about a drug they depend on being snapped up on the theory that something just might pan out.


Want more bargains? Who wouldn’t. Britain’s given £1 billion worth of contracts to companies without any competitive bidding process. Because we’re in a crisis.  


Enough about Britain. Let’s talk about Texas, which has always been a little crazy. I’m originally from New York, but I can claim half a right to say that because my partner is a Texan born and raised. If I get in trouble on this, I’m calling her as my witness.

The state recently eased its coronavirus restrictions, allowing restaurants, malls, and some other businesses to open, but it didn’t include bars, tattoo parlors, and other essential services, outraging some half a dozen business owners, who called in heavily and visibly armed civilians to stand around looking heavily armed and threatening. Then they opened up for business. 

I don’t know where it’s all headed. Not anyplace good.


But I shouldn’t single out Texas. In Turkey, as elsewhere, teachers have encouraged kids to draw rainbows and put them in their windows during the lockdown. Then some of the local education boards told them to stop. Rainbows are part of a plot to turn the kids gay. 

Oh, sure, you can laugh if you want, but I’m gay–okay, lesbian; that’s close enough–and I saw rainbows as a kid. And not just one rainbow but lots of them, both the kind in the sky and the kind on paper. That happened repeatedly. And look where it led.


In Spain, informal groups of parents are stepping in to help families whose kids are going hungry during the lockdown. And neighborhood associations and other local groups are supplying food, medicine, cleaning products, and (in one case) a tablet so a teenager could keep up with her school work. Social services are overwhelmed and haven’t been able to keep up with the need.  


Back to Britain: With people in lockdown getting bored enough to name their socks and teach them to leap through dog collars, a landscape archeologist from Exeter University, Chris Smart, has harnessed their skills and their boredom. He has them looking at aerial surveys of the Devon-Cornwall border for signs of ancient settlements. 

So far, they’ve found thirty settlements that date back to sometime between 300 BCE and 300 CE, along with twenty miles of road that linked Roman forts. 

“It will be hundreds [of settlements] by the time the volunteers are finished,” Smart said. “We’re seeing a much greater density of population than we thought.”

They’ve also found twenty prehistoric burial mounds, plus hundreds of medieval farms, field systems, and quarries. And so far, they’ve only worked on a tenth of the area.


In the village where I live, all our socks are named and yesterday morning my neighbor and I got excited about the possibility that the dump had reopened. Or as everyone but me calls it, the tip. If it has, we could all load up our green waste and take it for a drive.

I don’t actually have any green waste to take up there, but I was excited about Jane going.

Admit it: You understand. You know you do.


Every Thursday, Britain goes through the ritual of clapping for NHS and other frontline workers. They’re risking their lives for us. We love them all indiscriminately. Cynics see the cynicism of it–the government encourages us to clap but can’t manage to get them the protective gear or the equipment they need–but we do it anyway. Because we mean it. Because it feels right. Because a moment of solidarity with your neighbors just feels good.

Now a leaked document tells us the government’s considering a three-year freeze on public sector workers’ pay, including the pay of those heroic folks they encourage us to go out and clap for. Because someone has to be sacrificed to make up for the deficit we’re running and if it’s not going to be the people who can afford it most easily (and it’s not), then it’ll have to be the people who aren’t in a position to fight it effectively.

And I think I’m cynical.


A professor of infectious diseases, Paul Garner, caught Covid-19 and has been blogging about its effects. More than seven weeks later, he’s still sick.

The disease stays with some people like that. They call it the long tail of the virus. Garner says it kept coming up with new, disturbing symptoms. He had a muggy head, tinnitus, an upset stomach, pins and needles, breathlessness, dizziness, arthritic symptoms–. The list goes on.

And it would seem to get better and then come back. 


To learn more about the disease outside of hospital settings, King’s College, London, has introduced a tracker app where people can log their symptoms. 

There’s good clinical data for people in the hospital but not in the community, Professor Tim Spector said, but “there is a whole other side of the virus which has not had attention because of the idea that ‘if you are not dead you are fine.’ “

Rather than the cough, fever, and loss of the sense of smell that we’re told to watch for, some people get muscle aches, a sore throat, a headache. And Professor Lynne Turner-Stokes, also of King’s College, said Covid is capable of attacking any organ, including the lungs, brain, skin, kidneys, and nervous system. It can cause blood clots or confusion, delirium, and coma. 

“I’ve studied 100 diseases,” Spector said. “Covid is the strangest one I have seen in my medical career.”

67 thoughts on “The pandemic update from Britain (and elsewhere): arms, archeology, and apps

  1. Accent marks-argh! Unless I’m on a French keyboard, I don’t bother. Well, if I was writing a long thing in French, yes, I suppose I would.But for the odd word in English writing I can’t be arsed to rummage around for the grave or the acute.

    Liked by 1 person

    • My French isn’t good enough to write anything long and barely good enough to string together a sentence or three, but the absence of accent marks bugs me. It’s an inheritance from my time as an editor: I do like to respect a language enough to get it right, and there was a time when I knew how to find the accent marks hidden deep inside the English version of Word. I don’t anymore. I’ts changed and I haven’t.

      The one time I was completely defeated is when a name in, I think, Czech, wandered into some article I was editing, and I found about half the marks that changed the letters (I’m not sure what to call them, but they’re not accents; diacritical marks?) but not the other half. Whatever language it was, it does amazing things with the letters. I couldn’t even begin to imagine what it all meant in terms of pronunciation.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh, I’m not saying my French is good enough for “proper” writing! Rather, I’d like the diacritical thingies available on this keyboard. Umlauts and cedillas(cedillae?) and circumflexes and all the other little things that give foreigners an edge.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Shame on you about the accents. I just could not bring myself to read the rest of that sentence…
    Despite some people taking pay cuts or having their salaries frozen, I read that billionaires have increased their fortunes during this crisis.
    Also a group of people including Corbyn’s brother actually believe covid is the result of G5. They staged an anti-lockdown protest in Hyde Park, where social distancing was not observed. Strange days indeed….

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was about to say that in these crazy times the absence of proof doesn’t kill off a belief, but then as far as I know it never did. The anti-lockdown people are fairly scarce here, at least in the wild. There may be some in Westminster. And for all I know, in the cabinet. And they’re not armed. That much is good.

      Sorry about that sentence. I know it caused pain. What can I do? I’m the victim of an English-language keyboard (and I’m too lazy to dig into the depth of my program to find the accent marks).

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I was really excited about going to the ‘dump’ yesterday. Couldn’t believe how it had changed though since March; guards outside and roads closed off all around it except for drivers going to get rid of rubbish.
    I remember giving my gay cousin a present wrapped in rainbow paper a few years back, but it was the first piece of paper I saw in the shop and I thought it looked nice. He gave me a funny look, but silly me, I had no idea what it signified!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. So much to comment on here. I don’t know how relevant the Académie Française (note accent and cedilla) is these days, but I suspect the French will continue to refer to it as ‘le covid’. Virus is masculine in French, so that’s probably the logic behind it. The AF didn’t have much success with keeping out le weekend, but they did with le computer.

    I’d have understood Turkey getting upset about the rainbow because it’s a Christian symbol of hope (Noah’s ark etc.), but it’s clearly not being used in a homosexual context, unless I’m missing something very subversive.

    I love the idea of people converting their boredom into looking for ancient settlements and almost wish I was bored so that I could join in.

    Our local tip opened on Monday. I wasn’t seized by a desire to go there myself, but enough people were for there to be queues of two hours to get in. Jane should probably give it a few days before she goes. Around here there have been constant sounds of DIY over the past few weeks and people’s drives are full of stuff needing to go to the tip.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m sure I’ll get into trouble commenting on covid’s gender, so I’ll stick to sandwiches. I’m concerned that the designation applies to all sandwiches. I would expect a roast beef sandwich to be male.

    In a possibly sad bit of news, several sailors on the US Navy ship Theodore Roosevelt got infected with Covid for the second time. I’m not sure what that tells us, the article didn’t say, but it doesn’t sound like a good thing.

    Over here, the hydroxy-stuff has been causing unwanted side-effects like death, do the FDA has pulled back its/his/her recommendation to use it and is now saying its/his/her use should be under a doctor’s supervision.

    As for Texas bring wacky, how badly died one have to need a tattoo, today, to enlist the help of an armed guard?

    Keep the news flowing. It’s how we learn.

    Liked by 1 person

    • To start from the bottom up, getting a tattoo is all about liberty, so an armed guard to threaten someone else’s life? Hell, they’re free to die if they want to. As you said, it’s a side effect–death, that is.

      Or something.

      I think you’re falling for sex-role stereotyping when you decide that a roast beef sandwich is male. And actually, that’s the fascinating thing about using male and female nouns–they defy the standard-issue assumptions. I remember being struck, when I first studied Spanish and (along with the society around me) hadn’t gone very far down the road of thinking those assumptions through, with the idea that a man’s shirt is feminine. I’d love to know what they divisions grew out of, but it all happened so long ago that I’d be surprised if anyone can reconstruct it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Perhaps, I am stereotyping, of st least monotyping, but my most vivid memory of roast beef is my boss who had a roast beef sandwich, on white bread and an Almond Joy candy bar for lunch, every day he was in the office.

        Of course, since we don’t have masculine/feminine nouns, what do I know? I studied German for five years, but I’m still searching for the verbs.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. On the technical side of language usage in Word (assuming you prepare a draught)
    As for le and la Covid, given that it overwhelmingly kills men, then la makes perfect sense. ;-)
    Re antibodies, a cautionary tale
    Re rainbows, it would seem they eventually led you to the pot of bold.
    Finally the good professor of King’s College has been remiss, I feel, in not including St Vitus Dance, dropsy, fallen arches, tinea, ingrown toenails and rickets as potential plague indicators.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I do most of the work on my blog on what’s basically a toy typewriter, so I’ll probably have to skip the language detector, although there was a day (back when I worked as an editor and made every effort to get this stuff right) when I’d have been grateful to have it. These days, I’m happy enough to let my standards slide and make jokes about them as they slither out of sight.

      As for what kills me, don’t tempt me, my friend.

      I’d heard about the re-infections, thanks, and I will chase that up. A similar thing was reported from, I think, Korea some time ago. It’s worrying. As much as I understand that a vaccine’s a long shot, I can’t help hoping for one.


  7. Thanks for the update and discussion. A lot of unanswered questions about this virus. Someday those questions will be answered but right now we are just doing a lot of guessing. I have read ip some on the Spanish flu epidemic and that is helpful. Isolation helped back then.

    I understand about Texas. My wife is from Texas. All my in-laws are Texans. But their grandparents came from Georgia. Most Texans came from Appalachia and some scholars consider them part of greater Appalachia which runs up through Pennsylvania. They do like their freedom and liberty. And their right to make whiskey without paying taxes on it. See whiskey rebellion.

    Back to the virus a lot of people here, including myself, were sick with something in January February snd March with something. Without a antibody test no one knows which type of virus it was. I think a lot more people have had it then is recognized. I am guessing just like everyone else. New case numbers seem that and hospitals are not overwhelmed. Hope that remains true. Spanish flu kelp coming back for about three years. Found out in family discussions one of my great grandmothers died with it the third year. One grandmother died from it in October, 1918. I suspect it will be around a while regardless of what we do. But steps can be taken to slow its spread. All the foregoing about the virus is, of course baseless and mindless uninformed speculation. And should be taken ad such with much salt.

    Beautiful whether here, bright and sunny. Love the spring snd fall here.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Apparently, the best guesses from several places are that at a maximum 10% of the population have had it. How accurate those numbers are I don’t know. We’ll find out after a while. A number of people here (including Ida and I) also had–well, something, but of course there was no testing available so we have no idea what. Anything with a cough looked corona-ish but wouldn’t have a year earlier. You’re right: So much is not known yet. It must’ve been hard, in the second and third year of the flu, to remember that it was real and maintain any caution. I’m finding it hard and we’re not even a year in.

      It’s beautiful here too: Sunny and bright, which is to say we’re dancing on the edge of a drought. The spring flowers are magnificent.


  8. Just reading about the proposal of a pay freeze on the already underpaid people at the frontline of this pandemic makes me want to cry and even more so when money has been wasted on buying up medications needlessly and on contracts with zero oversight. Good to know that “cull the poor” is a policy for all decades.

    Liked by 1 person

        • Part of the (GOP controlled) US Senate’s objection to the current aid bill passed by the (Dem controlled) House is that it helps workers in such positions, and also police and fire personnel. Unlike BoJo, apparently the Senate (and the Executive Branch) cannot be shamed into anything.

          Liked by 2 people

  9. If this novel coronavirus is the thing that finally upends the dimwit presidency then it ought to be feminine, and it also should be given a congressional medal of honor. Rainbow-hued. And when this is over, and the clown prince of politics is done, I will personally drive him to the tip myself.

    Liked by 4 people

  10. Did I read that correctly ? Socks leaping through hoops have helped document the density of population…
    I guess that would explain why people keep falling for the ideas of our chief cockwobble. After all it was he who said ‘testing is why we have so much virus.’

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Pretty and I are convinced at random times – some of them together, some of them separately – that we have El or La Covid at least every week. We recount our symptoms to each other, I take my temperature every day (Pretty doesn’t trust our thermometer), and we have had a friend give us an oxymiter for our birthdays. Now we monitor our breathing at least five times every day to see whether we hit the magic range of 92 – 100. The instructions admonished us to immediately go to the emergency room if we dropped to 88 or below. I think our levels of anxiety raise our range to the acceptable levels.
    I feel so much better after reading your post today because I now know that nobody knows nothing about the coronavirus for sure and certain.
    I have to give a shout out to my personal physician who this past week diagnosed my back pains as a pinched nerve instead of Covid and medicated me appropriately. Ironically, Pretty now has back pains.
    Stay safe, my friends.

    Liked by 1 person

    • So the back pains weren’t cured, they were just relocated. What you need is a neighbor you don’t like so they can relocate there.

      I know what you mean about le/la/el Covid. I tend to go to bed with it and wake up fine. It’s magic. What I seem to have is a paranoia sore throat.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Never mind the female/male classification for Covid, you ended up getting my attention with “tip” for the word “dump.” NTC’s Dictionary of British Slang, which I have next to me each night for when we watch shows on Acorn TV (prompting my wife to roll her eyes each time I pick it up), defines Tip as: “A very untidy room.” So thank you for this. I now have a new word that I plan on using regularly.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I laughed so hard about the dump. Did you go to the dump as a kid? We had trash picked up, but occasionally, something had to be taken to the dump, or my father, in Depression-era habit, would want to see if some odd thing he needed might be there. I thought it was a terrible and wondrous place. Glad it’s still around.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I didn’t. We were New Yorkers. Wherever the dump was, it was a distant and barely imaginable place, linked to us only by big, white trucks. It wasn’t until I moved to Minneapolis (and more specifically until we bought a house that came with some 20 spare doors that fit nothing in the house) that I understood that people could go to the dump to get rid of things that the trucks wouldn’t take. Although we did try to give the doors away first, and when that didn’t work tried to sell them. No takers, either way. We were hoping someone like your father would put a couple of them to use, because they were nice.

      But yes, I can imagine it would have had a real impact on a kid.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. I gave up trying to find the logic in gender years ago. The Covid thing is annoying, as our fusty old académiciens are late to the party and it will be hard to get people to change from saying LE Covid. There is an expression in French that ‘l’usage fait loi’ (usage makes the law). Also, their reasoning is that ‘disease’ (maladie, feminine) is the dominant word in the acronym while as it’s adopted from the English it is clearly ‘coronavirus’ (masculine) that is dominant. On verra!

    Liked by 1 person

    • My French is (to put it kindly) limited, but it seems to me that with enough knowledge of the language you could pull any thread out of the word’s weave and construct your argument from there. Disease. Virus. Crown. I’m sure some others are lurking just under the surface. But I like the idea that l’usage fait loi. (My spell check seems to think l’usage is correctly spelled English. Odd.) I used to work as an editor and I could always argue both sides of a usage/correctness argument with equal passion. I do believe a language has rights and wrongs, and that good writing depends on understanding them. I also believe that use and speech drive the language, and that language changes. On this one, though, I can’t see any value in coming to the discussion late and claiming to get the final word. L’usage–that suddenly correct newcomer to the English language–has spoken.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. I dont consider “may, perhaps, sugests, probably” wishy-washy but sensible words to use when there is so much we don’t know about Novel (i.i. new) Covid-19.

    I love visiting the tip/dump by the way. It takes so much effort to gather up stuff to recycle/bin that it’s such a relief to drive away having left it there! I dream of the day I can drive there again. Thta’s some way off given I can only walk short distances with a stick and outide is “downstairs” and I haven’t been there for weeks and weeks. Oh, yes, we are still in lockdown in Wales too.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. It is hard not to be cynical when it comes to politicians. Same here in Ireland: all the official praise being heaped on the frontline workers in the hospitals, including the nurses the powers that be tried to publicly humiliate when they pushed for a reasonable wage increase not so long ago! #SeniSal

    Liked by 1 person

  17. So, do you think people who live in rainy areas will be more likely to be gay since they will see more rainbows? (Since I live in the U.S. – this is just a joke.)

    Liked by 1 person

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