COVID-19 Is Changing How People Communicate

The way people use email has shifted in recent months

Typing on laptop
The pandemic is changing how many people communicate electronically.
Oregon Department of Transportation/Creative Commons
By Tobias Carroll / May 16, 2020 7:30 am

Isolation and times of crisis can have a significant impact on communication. Isolated groups have shown signs of developing distinct accents, for one thing. So when it comes to discussing the effects COVID-19 has on language, it’s less a question of whether it will and more of the extent to which it will. Writing at The Wall Street Journal, Alina Dizik explores another way the coronavirus has changed communication by tracing its effect on email.

Dizik’s article focuses on business email etiquette, and how current circumstances have caused it to rapidly change. That’s not to say that some of the points made here don’t translate into email more broadly — among the points of the article is that the current crisis has made the boundary between business and personal emails more porous.

The linguistic shifts that Dizik covers point to a temporary pause in some behavior — emails with a little too much enthusiasm, for example.

Digital marketing-agency founder Brian Metcalf tells employees to keep all messages short and to stay away from using business jargon such as “synergistic opportunities” or “cross promotion.” On Instagram, Mr. Metcalf’s team created a Lingo Bingo post to poke fun at the language they see people using during the pandemic, with squares for “we’re hanging in there” and “what are your pain points” to demonstrate how communication is changing.

Still, finding the right balance between work-appropriate language and a level of candor appropriate to the times we’re living in isn’t always the easiest task. Dizik spoke with Gretchen McCulloch, whose book Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language delves into some of these questions.

Among McCulloch’s insights? That phases like “Hope this finds you well” have rapidly dropped in usage, for very understandable reasons. What happens when language shifts rapidly? We’re all getting a chance to see that firsthand right now.

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