Poems of the Week

R Number

by Iris Herriot

“One of the year’s most remarkable linguistic developments, according to the OED,
has been the extent to which scientific terms have entered general discourse,
as we have all become armchair epidemiologists, with most of us now familiar with
the term ‘R number’.

“Before 2020 this was a term known mainly to epidemiologists; now non-experts routinely
talk about ‘getting the R down’ or ‘bringing R below 1’. …
Use of ‘Black Lives Matter’ and ‘BLM’ also surged, as did the term ‘QAnon’,
up by 5,716% on last year. …
Use of ‘Brexit’, however, has dropped by 80% this year.”
The Guardian

This year’s new words, it might appear, just bother and encumber,
But one of them we do enjoy: that’s R, the verbal number.
This entity, obscure last year as prehistoric mists,
Makes sense now we’re all armchair epidemiologists:
We’re following the science, never letting mask or guard down,
Workationing remotely, mailing in to get the R down;
We’re flattening the curve, creating bubbles (not for fun),
Intent on bringing R beneath the numeral of 1.
Community-transmissioners unmute but find no takers;
When R is up they’re feeling down, likewise the circuit-breakers;
Though Brexit’s round the corner, it’s less popular by far
Than BLM and QAnon and good old number R.