Monday, February 08, 2010

you could look it up

Many, many sources call the Haiti earthquake apolocalypic and many, many have more recently dubbed our recent heavy snow a snowpoccalypse.

It's a bit of a surprise to find that apocalypse and apocalyptic only recently came to mean "great devastation" and "greatly devastating." Time past, when people used the words they meant the recording of a prophesy not the Armageddon being prophesized. They were talking about the Book of Revelation which is also known as the "Apocalypse of John." To them, the words meant "revelation, prophesy" and "pertaining to the Revelation of St. John."

The Greek, ἀποκάλυψις, means*
1) laying bare, making naked,

2) a disclosure of truth, instruction
a) concerning things before unknown
b) used of events by which things or states or persons hitherto withdrawn from view are made visible to all
3) manifestation, appearance
The OED has our modern meaning of apocalypse and apocalyptic as 2008 draft additions.**

The new usage, apocalypse for Armageddon, seems so natural that it's surprising that it didn't come about earlier. As the wikipedia article on apocalypse says:
Today the term often refers to Armageddon or the end of the world, which may be a shortening of the phrase apokalupsis eschaton, literally "revelation at the end of the æon, or age". In Christianity The Apocalypse of John is the Book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible.
I suspect the identification of the book with the event persisted because of a now lost familiarity with the numerous books of prophetic writings that were called apocalypses. Thus, for example, Google Book Search turns up these apocalypses in book titles: Apocalypse of Baruch, Apocalypse of James, Apocalypse of Abraham, Apocalypse of Peter, Apocalypse of Isaiah, Apocalypse of Paul, Apocalypse of Daniel, and Apocalypse of Elijah. The word was used almost interchangeably with revelation, though it particularly seems to have meant the dream-like vision as of a veil lifting to show events to come.

I'm not the only one who's raised this topic blogingly.

{Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse by Albrecht Durer; source:}



* See Blue Letter Bible: apokalypsis

**From the OED:
DRAFT ADDITIONS JUNE 2008 — apocalypse, n.
Christian Church. The events described in the revelation of St John; the Second Coming of Christ and ultimate destruction of the world.
1862 R.I. Schoolmaster (Rhode Island Commissioner Public Schools) 8 22/2 There are those who..think they already behold its fearful apocalypse terminating in darkness and in blood. 1947 N. FRYE Fearful Symmetry (1990) iii. 67 The apocalypse will necessarily begin with a slaughter of tyrants, and Christ came, Blake says, to deliver those bound under the knave. 2008 Washington Post (Electronic ed.) 28 Jan. C3 Eddy sends an e-mail to thousands of like-minded Christians announcing: ‘The End Days have arrived. The Apocalypse and the Rapture are at hand.’

b. More generally: a disaster resulting in drastic, irreversible damage to human society or the environment, esp. on a global scale; a cataclysm. Also in weakened use.
1894 J. SWINTON Striking for Life 357 Comrades of Chicago!.. In these times there are..prophecies of approaching apocalypse... It will surely come. 1940 Common Sense Mar. 4/2 Washington is preoccupied with the threat of apocalypse across the Atlantic. 1980 Bookseller 26 Jan. 316/2 Although most people are saddened by the enforced abandonment of some titles, no one is prepared to interpret it as the publishers' apocalypse. 1994 Time 24 Oct. 33 While the poor are bewitched by dreams of peace and plenty, the rich are preparing for an apocalypse.
DRAFT ADDITIONS JUNE 2008 — apocalyptic, adj. and n.
Of, relating to, or characteristic of a disaster resulting in drastic, irreversible damage to human society or the environment, esp. on a global scale; cataclysmic. Also in weakened use. Cf. APOCALYPSE n. Additions.
1918 F. J. C. HEARNSHAW Democracy at Crossways 2 Among the apocalyptic events four stand pre-eminent. They are (1) the Russian Revolution of March; (2) the entry of America into the War; [etc.]. 1943 R. LOWELL in I. Hamilton Robert Lowell (1982) 88 The razing of Hamburg, where 200,000 non-combatants are reported dead, after an almost apocalyptic series of all-out air-raids. 1970 Harper's Mag. Apr. 53/1 The apocalyptic scenario spells itself out rather easily: an indefinite prolongation of the war in Vietnam, or a re-escalation. 2001 FourFourTwo Aug. 117/1 The festive period saw an apocalyptic 5-1 home defeat to Leyton Orient. 2005 Observer 11 Sept. I. 22/2 At the hint of a dirty bomb or some other apocalyptic onslaught, societies could become ‘decivilised’.

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