Language matters for sustainability, and diseases’ names and attendant terminology should serve language users’ extant and future needs. The currency and pandemic proportion of COVID-19, and the viral or pervasive use of its attendant vocabulary and metaphors, makes it an apt case for interrogating the sustainability of its nomenclature. This paper interrogates the efficacy and sustainability of COVID-19 related English vocabulary and metaphors among the Shona speaking people, as a microcosm of their efficacy and sustainability among Bantu African language speakers. The paper is framed by the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which posits that language filters people’s reality and colors their attitudes and actions. By implication, unstainable and inefficacious language compromises an appreciation of one’s reality. Acknowledging that any linguistic inventiveness should serve a utilitarian rather than ornamental function, the paper interrogates the sustainability and efficacy of the ‘war’ metaphor and lexical innovations replete within the COVID-19 discourse. The paper analyzes efficacy regarding the terms and metaphor engendering the desired or intended effects and sustainability of the terms’ intelligibility, pronounceability, memorability, and translatability. The paper concludes that the selected English COVID-19 related terms engendered unintended thoughts and reactions within the language users, and that, owing to them being products of English lexical innovation, they defy translatability into, and intelligibility within, African languages; rendering the COVID-19 discourse exclusive and unsustainable.
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