While it’s acknowledged that cancel culture is unproductive at best and irreparably damaging at worst, I propose a worldwide cancellation of the word ‘unprecedented.’ It simply has to go. Once the domain of climate change catastrophe, the term has become synonymous with watery email pleasantries and blanket corporate statements unbefitting of a once-in-a-century event. Though no one is questioning the validity of ‘unprecedented’ to describe what is, frankly, an unprecedented series of events, its flippant overuse is diluting the gravity of our collective experience.
Semantically speaking, we’ve adopted wartime language to make sense of the profound disruption to our lives caused by the pandemic. Essential workers and healthcare professionals are referred to as ‘frontline’ staff, rations were imposed on certain supermarket goods and virus casualties are still being reported numerically as ‘incalculable losses.’ Overseas, military-style temporary hospitals and morgues have been erected, while politicians speak of the ‘fight’ of our generation. This type of language would be unprecedented, if not for the fact that we’re returning to it.