In the long unspooling of bad news — virus, climate change — there are some bright spots. One of my favourites is the reporting of Dr Peter Jüni, Scientific Director of Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, on CBC. While he gives us sobering counsel on staying alive through the pandemic, it’s the way that he delivers his warning that delights me. Having learned other languages, having lived in places where English is spoken as a second or third or fourth language, I know that idioms can be a challenge. And Dr Jüni has taken the idiom challenge by the horns and trounced it. He delivers idioms with such confidence and rapidity that I scarcely have time to write them down. But I have, or more precisely, my partner and I have. Here are some from Dr Jüni talking about the Covid situation:
- We don’t have time to fine-tune responses.
- It’s like the tour de France, one takes the lead and the game changes.
- It’s explosive, I’m sorry to say.
- What do you do if you’re on the beach and a tsunami is coming?
- Nothing is perfect; it’s a tidal wave.
- The perfect is the enemy of the good.
- It will be a bumpy road.
- It’s still a work in progress.
- I’m not a prophet.
- We don’t need a crystal ball to tell where we are going.
- We are not asleep at the steering wheel.
Here are some from his exhortations to get the vaccine and to follow various lockdown guidelines:
- Face the reality and do the right thing.
- This virus is a bully.
- We need to change our attitude and not feel sorry for ourselves. Stop moaning.
- Have two doses under your belt.
The rock is a favourite, which says something solid about the English language:
- They’re living somewhere under a rock.
- You’re a bit between a rock and a hard place.
He is no-holds-barred about the wrongheaded:
- That’s a jolly bad idea.
- That’s a pipe dream that’s completely wrong.
- Complete and utter nonsense.
- Did I not communicate enough?
And yet, he too can trumpet a note of optimism:
- Ontarians have pulled it off again.
- We are on a good track.
- Fingers crossed that…
- A really good place to be.
- The sweet spot also for her…
- It won’t take forever.
- This too shall pass.
Responding to the personal stories of others, he shares his own stories, that he misses dancing, that he had severe anxiety disorder as a kid, that he’s had months where he couldn’t make ends meet, that he funded his studies by working as an auxiliary nurse. Having received a “hate wave” of criticism for some of his remarks, he understands that “it gets to you.” And it does get to me. By the end of Radio Noon/Ontario Today, my burning question is not whether I will suffer from Covid. Rather, my question is: who taught English to the doctor from Switzerland? They deserve a prize.