In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defence of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenceless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them. –George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language”
We need to get something straight amid the current global insanity. A “quarantine” is when you separate people who are infected, or likely to be infected, from the healthy population. Here’s the Google-promoted definition from Lexico.com:
A state, period, or place of isolation in which people or animals that have arrived from elsewhere or been exposed to infectious or contagious disease are placed.
‘many animals die in quarantine’
Here’s the definition from WebMD:
What does it mean to be quarantined? People who have been exposed to an infectious disease and may be infected but are not yet ill may be quarantined. That is, they may be asked to remain at home or another location to prevent further spread of illness to others and to carefully monitor for the disease.
During quarantine people are able to do most things they can do indoors within the constraints of the location they are at. For example, if people are asked to stay at home then they would usually be asked to take their own temperature and report daily to health authorities on how they are feeling. They are given instructions on what they can do and not do around family members and are informed of other disease precautions.
The word comes from the Black Death-era Venetian practice of requiring ships from infected ports to sit at anchor for 40 days before landing (quaranta giorni is Italian for “40 days”).
It’s perfectly clear, then, that the mass “lockdowns” and stay-at-home orders affecting billions of people around the world are not quarantines! Ordering healthy people, who have no known exposure to the virus, to stay indoors is not a quarantine. Banning all forms of real-life social activity is not a quarantine.
What should we call it, then? Personally, I prefer the term “mass house arrest” – because, stripped of its legal connotations, that is what it is!
Let’s check the Wikipedia entry for “house arrest”:
In justice and law, house arrest (also called home confinement, home detention, or, in modern times, electronic monitoring) is a measure by which a person is confined by the authorities to their residence. Travel is usually restricted, if allowed at all. House arrest is an alternative to being in a prison while awaiting trial or after sentencing. […]
The terms of house arrest can differ, but most programs allow employed offenders to continue to work, and confine them to their residence only during non-working hours. Offenders are commonly allowed to leave their home for specific purposes; examples can include visits to the probation officer or police station, religious services, education, attorney visits, court appearances, and medical appointments. Many programs also allow the convict to leave their residence during regular, pre-approved times in order to carry out general household errands, such as food shopping and laundry. Offenders may have to respond to communications from a higher authority to verify that they are at home when required to be. Exceptions are often made to allow visitors to visit the offender.
It’s fascinating to note that prisoners under house arrest often have more freedom of action that the average American/European/Indian/etc. under the current regimes of medical house arrest. For example, Americans are not allowed to attend religious services – whereas prisoners under house arrest are.
You may think this is a trivial issue, but in reality, it’s of the utmost importance that we call things by their correct names. If we don’t, we won’t understand the true nature of what is happening, and we will tolerate the intolerable and defend the indefensible. False language is the handmaiden of evil. Pseudo-scientific babble is being invoked to justify vast and possibly irrevocable political and societal changes. Calling mass house arrest a “quarantine,” as many people are doing, makes it more palatable. Quarantines are good; who doesn’t support quarantining the infected? Forget that most of us are not infected, or that if we are, we don’t need to quarantine everyone because it’s already too late.
If you care about language, if you care about science, if you care about logic and clarity of thought, please… stop calling it a quarantine!!!