Thursday, 26 February 2009

Talking up the apocalypse

We've talked before about the language of the apocalypse, particularly in issue two in reference to natural disasters. In the verbose excesses of a globalised media, analogies of apocalypse and disaster are easily employed to strike home to the reader or listener the gravity of the situation in a natural, almost knee-jerk reaction to events that seem too big to be true. Such words are not the preserve of the doom-monger, as even those who promise relief and rescue from a frightening and seemingly overwhelming situation find it all too easy to create a backdrop of despair, against which their efforts shine even more brightly.

But what effect does this have? What seeds does it sow? According to the latest report from the Global Language Monitor, 'words of hope in the global media have given way to those of despair and fear relating to the economic meltdown in a three-month period since the US presidential election in November'. The way we use language fundamentally affects our view of the world and as people are bombarded with words such as 'armageddon', 'meltdown', 'doomsday' and 'apocalypse' their emotional reaction to the situation will inevitably shift towards feelings of fear and despair. Couple that with the genuine problems faced by people around the world, such as rises in food prices and shortage of commodities, and the consequences can be significant. As people panic, so do their leaders. As a climate of fear evolves, so does the situation where drastic measures seem reasonable.

There are some who inevitably see these societal 'collapses' as precursors for social unrest and, eventually, war; so the way we talk about a crisis deserves attention. Are we playing things up for effect? Are we at risk of affecting the outcome of this economic depression just because of our choice of words? Are we making things worse due a simple poverty of allegory?

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