Here we come ‘cohorting’

Social change, such as a pandemic, has the potential to change language. While this can take some getting used to, it isn’t the end of the world. In the case of Canuck, it can even turn a slur into something positive (depending on how a person defines nationalism).

A recent media release from the Alberta government was peppered with the word ‘cohorting’. There’s just one problem. Is this really a word? Cohort (noun) yes, but cohorting (verb) never heard of it.

The first page of Google searches for ‘cohorting’ is all dictionaries. Only one had the verb, the rest only had cohort.

According to The Free Online Dictionary, it is a medical term “an imposed grouping of people, such as health care workers, potentially exposed to designated diseases.”

As we are living in a pandemic, the non-medical population, in this case school children and parents will have to adapt to this new word.

Within linguistics, the scariest person is a prescriptivist, someone who requires that language stay the same.

Anyone who has sung Christmas carols knows this isn’t true. For example, ‘Here We Come A-wassailling’ has a jaunty tune, but very few people, possibly no one, know what it means.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary has a both a wassail (noun) and wassail (verb). One verb meaning is to carol from house to house and the other meanings both noun and verb have to do with drinking alcohol (specifically hot).

Another Canadian example of word meaning changes is the term ‘Canuck.’

The Canadian Encyclopedia says Canuck has been around since the 1830s. Up until recently, the main theory was that it was a shortened form for Canada. However, studies have shown that the root is likely the Hawaiian term for human kanaka. On the west coast of North America, the term used by Hawaiian whalers applied to Hawaiians, but on the east coast it started to refer to any foreigner with skin darker than Americans of British or Irish origin. At the time, the term Canadien only referred to French Canadians, many of whom had mixed French and Indigenous ancestors.

Over time, Canadians started to use the term to refer to themselves. In 1869, two years after Confederation, Johnny Canuck “a fictional male figure who personifies the nation as a whole” was created as a symbol of patriotism and in response to fear of American invasion.

As students go ‘cohorting’ in the fall, they will likely learn more new words and maybe some old ones.

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