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The Words that Marked Coronavirus 

Three Questions to Olivier Duhamel and Laurent Bigorgne

INTERVIEW - 5 May 2020

Olivier Duhamel and Laurent Bigorgne published a short book, Les mots du coronavirus, meaning "The Words of the Coronavirus", (published in French by Dalloz), in the form of a dictionary. The aim of this small compilation, equipped with a chronology of events, is to preserve the memory of the facts and words that characterized the Covid-19 crisis. The royalties for this work will be paid in full to the Sciences Po library, whose activity has been stopped throughout this academic semester.

Why did you choose to compile the "vocabulary" of the coronavirus?

Olivier Duhamel: First of all, we wanted to report on such a new, unprecedented and multifaceted event. The choice of a dictionary template was meant to prevent any attempts at essay writing, which would have been very premature. It seemed to us that the data was more interesting than our opinions, and the diversity of others’ opinions more interesting than our own.

Laurent Bigorgne: It is also a great exercise for immediate memory, asking ourselves who said what, when, and under which circumstances. The construction of the chronology at the end of the book makes it possible to get a sense, almost day by day, of the dramatic acceleration of the pandemic in our country and beyond, since March.

What do you consider to be the most striking word in your opinion?

Olivier Duhamel: It’s up to the readers to decide. Legal minds might go to Conseil d'État (the Council of State), economists to 21st-century capitalism, sociologists to Conspiracists, entrepreneurs to Support for businesses, employees to Right of withdrawal1, politicians to Local elections, journalists to Fake news, while literary minds may prefer Camus and poets Apollinaire

Laurent Bigorgne: The nursing staff to Balcony, think tank staff to Populism...

Olivier Duhamel: In other words, readers seeking to shed a few tears will look to Deaths, those who want to laugh will choose Jokes, and the honest man will stop at every word describing the pandemic.

What lessons do you draw from this work?

Laurent Bigorgne: More so than any other major event that has marked our recent history, be it 9/11, the 2008 financial crisis or the 2015 and 2016 attacks in France and Europe, this is a global event. It is taking place all over the planet and is deeply disturbing our lives. Never before have all the countries on the planet been confronted simultaneously with an event so full of unknowns, a mobilization of such a scale, and such a disruption of the lives of their inhabitants, and all of this for an indefinite period of time with heavy economic and social consequences, with unpredictable political and cultural effects.

Olivier Duhamel: Humanity's relationship with death is deeply disturbed, as we no longer accept the implicit and gentle euthanasia of a seasonal flu, for instance, which causes around 10,000 deaths every year in France. In the spring of 2020, the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic became the top priority. We are all concerned. It is a question of solidarity and saving lives... As I have already said before: everyone at home, but everyone for all.


1From French Employment law


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