Words-worth: Credit crunch

The economy is in trouble, and it all started with the 'credit crunch'. The term refers to a sudden reluctance by banks and investors to lend money.

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Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

It's an American expression; the earliest use was in a New York Times article from 1968. 'Crunch' itself is English, first recorded as a noun in 1836, when it meant the act of crushing with the teeth. The Oxford English Dictionary's first citation refers to a shark-bite: 'it is but a crunch, and all is over'. There's a string of earlier words for the same thing: 'craunch', 'cranch', 'scraunch', 'crash', all of them imitating the sound made when you bite an apple. The figurative use, meaning a decisive moment or a crisis, is first recorded in a newspaper article by Winston Churchill just before World War II, when he spoke of the coming 'European crunch'; 'to come to the crunch' derives from that, but is not recorded before 1960. A 'credit crunch' is not to be confused with a 'credit squeeze', a more gradual phenomenon, often imposed by Government. If you're on the receiving end, though, you can be forgiven for not caring.

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