I feel like my life’s on hold: Language for describing uncertain times.

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by Liz Walter

With many people around the world in some form of lockdown and almost everyone affected by the pandemic in some way, I thought it might be useful to offer some language suitable for talking about living in a climate of uncertainty (a general situation of not knowing what is going to happen).

It is very difficult to make plans when we don’t know what is going to happen and what our country’s rules might be at any point. We can say that the situation is unpredictable and that it is difficult/impossible to plan ahead. When we make plans that are spoiled, we sometimes use the phrase thrown into disarray:

We can’t book a holiday while things are so unpredictable.

We’d like to expand the business, but it’s difficult to plan ahead at the moment.

Their wedding plans were thrown into disarray.

One phrase that has been used a lot recently is put something on hold, meaning to delay it. We can also simply say that something is on hold. Other common synonyms are postpone, put off, put back and defer:

We’ve been forced to put our plans on hold.

I feel like my life’s on hold at the moment.

The company has decided to defer its graduate training scheme.

When it is impossible to make a decision because things around you keep changing, you might say that things are up in the air. When we decide to go ahead with a plan even though we are aware that there might be a problem, we often say that we will cross that bridge when we come to it:

We’re hoping to open the restaurant again soon, but everything’s up in the air at the moment.

We may need more funding at some stage, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

When it isn’t clear what the future holds, we often try to hedge our bets or keep our options open, meaning to organize things so that you will have some choices whatever happens:

I hope I’ll still have a job after lockdown, but I’m hedging my bets by making enquiries with some other companies.

We’re not going to book accommodation yet, as we want to keep our options open.

Many of us have had to adapt (change the way we behave) to cope with new circumstances in the pandemic. This certainly hasn’t always been easy, but lots of people have risen to the challenge (succeeded) in many different ways:

It took me a while to adapt to working from home.

Local communities have risen to the challenge of supporting one another in these difficult times.

I hope you find these phrases useful, and that many of us can now see light at the end of the tunnel (hope that a bad situation will improve soon).

29 thoughts on “I feel like my life’s on hold: Language for describing uncertain times.

    1. Marlene Lublanski

      It’s really true what you did about you feel like! We have to think that we will all be winners against coronavirus virus 19. God blessed us! Thanks a lot for sharing with us.

  1. Javed

    Appreciate your thought, your are doing a great job by reading your article I can see some light in the end of the tunnel. Greatly learning!

  2. Denis

    Another great piece! 🙂
    I’d also add ‘put sth on ice/into cold storage/on the back burner’ meaning ‘to postpone sth’. Moreover, the verb ‘shelve’ used with the same meaning is a really good one as well.
    By the way Liz, I really want you to take a look at the following sentence:
    ‘The project has been shelved, but, availing myself of lateral thinking, I’m able to come up with an alternative solution.’
    I mean, is it OK to say ‘to avail (yourself) of lateral thinking’, meaning ‘to use/employ lateral thinking (to think in a creative way)’? I’m inclined to believe that it would sound rather formal, but is it correct and natural?

    1. Liz Walter

      I think ‘avail yourself’ is usually more natural when you are referring to something you get from someone else, rather than something you provide yourself (e.g. coming up with your own solution). So it’s not exactly wrong, but it sounds a little odd.

  3. Fidier Rescia Alvarado

    Hullo Ms Walters,
    Using that language for describing uncertain times is also correct to include ´´the pandemic has brought the nations´ economy to its knees. I´d like to read your excellent commentaries and of course, I really appreciate your valuable work for students and professors around the world.

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