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Konrad Werner: Crisis mode

This week, Konrad gets his knickers in a twist about one little word, like he's some kind of linguistically-obsessed transvestite.

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Photo by János Pálinkás (robinsoncaruso; Flickr CC)

This blog is often a blood-from-a-stone kind of a deal, what with German politics being on the anaemic side. This week, for instance, the most exciting thing that happened, apart from the latest last-ditch, make-or-break, do-or-die, sink-or-swim, stick-or-twist, spit-or-swallow euro crisis summit (by the way, have you noticed how the euro crisis is redefining the word “crisis”? Thanks to this and the financial crisis of 2008, the word “crisis” has actually gained a new meaning. A crisis used to be a single, crucial, critical event – the bursting of an emotional boil that brings relief or death, depending on which way the cookie crumbles. Now Merriam-Webster has sneakily added another definition to its “crisis” entry – it is now a whole situation, or “an unstable or crucial time or state of affairs in which a decisive change is impending” – and it uses “financial crisis” as its example. 

This isn’t fair. It means, in effect, that the situation before the crisis is now also the crisis, ruining the whole point of having a crisis. It’s like calling the final pass a “goal”, or the set-up a “punchline”, or the nipple-licking an “orgasm”. What will we call the real crisis? What will we call it when the euro finally explodes in a big financial supernova? And don’t just say “apocalypse”. That’s just linguistic inflation, and as the Germans keep telling everyone, inflation never solves anything. Because what if the break-up of the euro is followed by a new “unstable or crucial state of affairs” involving a new currency or currencies? We would end up climbing a ladder of crisis words, so after a crisis comes a crunch, followed by a calamity, followed by a catastrophe, and then a cataclysm, until finally we get to something satisfyingly biblical like an apocalypse, but unless the world actually does end when the thing we’re calling apocalypse happens, then we’ll still have to find another word after that. Eventually we’d just end up adding arbitrary multiple grades, like credit ratings agencies do, as in BB crisis, or AAA apocalypse. But then we’d need a crisis ratings agency to decide how much of a crisis it is, which is how this mess started in the first place.

No. What we need is a revaluation of the word “crisis”. A crisis has to be worth something again. The sneaky new Webster definition needs to be reverted. From now on, you’re only allowed to call something a crisis if something actually happens, and not if Angela Merkel just has a poo. That’s it. I’ve decided. This is a new rule, and everyone has to do it.) was that the SPD failed to choose a chancellor candidate.