Physical Distance does not have to mean Social Distance

For all who need to navigate English. Recently I found myself hearing the term social distancing and thinking, ‘shouldn’t we be saying physical distancing?’ Not being an epidemiologist, but being an occasional technical writer, social distancing seemed to be an example of a trendy term for a well-established idea. I even went so far as to use ‘physical distancing’ in conversations.

Social Distancing vs. Social Distance

Social Distancing is an established term for the actions intended to stop or slow down the spread of contagious diseases. It is most effective when the infection can be transmitted via droplet contact, direct physical contact, indirect physical contact, etc.

So, keeping a good physical distance from others is recommended. However, I find no use of the term physical distancing. Not sure why.

How about social distance? Since social distancing is well established, one might be forgiven for thinking that social distance is what we want to achieve. Not so fast!

Social distance describes the ‘distance’ between different groups in society, such as social class, race/ethnicity, etc, particularly when groups mix less than members of the same group [1]. In other words, it is the extent to which individuals or groups are removed from or excluded from participating in one another’s lives [2].

OK, that cleared that up for me. Let’s try to assure that social distancing does not lead to increased social distance between us.

[1] Social distance, Wikipedia
[2] Social distance, Dictionary.com

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