Plague Diary 23: An Etymological Curiosity

A Look Back to the 1918 Influenza Pandemic

I was scanning the channels early this evening when I made a surprising discovery. There seems to be a term from the 1918 Influenza Pandemic that has become part of our language. The “crawl” on one of the news stations casually mentioned that the term “slacker” derived from scofflaws during the pandemic that refused to wear face masks.

According to the Saturday Evening Post website, then, as now, there was an organized resistance to wearing masks:

[T]he Influenza pandemic of 1918, triggered a comparable patchwork of ordinances and ensuing economic fallout. Some Americans’ reactions a century ago took similar form, particularly a group of fed up San Franciscans who called themselves the “Anti-Mask League.” Although San Francisco saw one of the worst U.S. outbreaks of the pandemic, these dissidents opposed orders from the city’s Board of Health not because of the economic implications, but because they saw it as their right to walk the city maskless. Besides, they didn’t think the things were working anyway.

The more things change, the more hey remain the same. The members of the Anti-Mask League were referred to as slackers.

From the Enid Daily Eagle of September 25, 1918

There are, of course, some differences between the coronavirus and the outbreak following the First World War. All I can do is re-iterate the warning from the newspaper clip above:

Don’t get “scared.”