Words-worth: Recession

For a while, 'recession' was the word that dared not speak its name. Such is its mystical power that it was thought that merely saying the R-word out loud would bring a sharp decline in economic activity. Strictly, it means an economic decline marked by two successive quarters of negative growth in gross domestic product. The word comes from the Latin verb recedere, 'to withdraw'. 'Recession' is the act of receding, withdrawing or retreating. Newspapers talked of recessions in output, stock prices and so on throughout the 20th century, but the modern sense, of a decline in a whole economy, is recorded first in an Economist article published just days after the 1929 Wall Street crash. It said an industrial recovery wouldn't be long in coming, 'even if we have to face an immediate recession of some magnitude'. Then it was a euphemism, used in place of scarier words like 'crash', 'slump' or 'panic'. But no-one was fooled. In due course, new euphemisms arrived - 'period of adjustment', anyone? - while 'recession' became as scary as those other words.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

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