Magazine October 20, 2008, Issue

Dismal Etymology

(Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

The most interesting aspect of the recent Wall Street coverage is the spectacle of our talking heads’ not only letting a banished word get by, but actually reviving it. “Depression” is back in all its upper-case glory, wearing its de rigueur initial cap to differentiate it from mere sadness.

Ironically, it began as a euphemism for “Panic,” an earlier word for economic collapse, as in “the Panic of 1893.” After the stock-market crash of 1929, the Hoover administration, fearing a revolution, sought to calm the public by substituting the sleepy-sounding “Depression” for the wide-awake-sounding “Panic.” It may have helped at the …

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