“Farewell to the arts,- to eloquence” – Mary Shelly, “The Last Man” (1826)
Weird things happen to language during a crisis.
We have no way to describe what’s happening, so we invent new phrases.
During the “outbreak” of the “novel coronavirus”, we comfortably added new phrases to our daily lexicon.
None are more popular than “social distancing” or “essential workers.”
“Essential workers” is an interesting phrase. Essential is the adjective form of “essence.” Ask a 14th century etymologist and they will tell you it means “that is such, by its essence.”
Essential is from the late Latin word essentialis, derived from essentia.
Essentia means “being, essence.”
To be an “essential” worker, you are the very essence of civilization.