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Great Recession

This term for the financial mess we’re in began to appear throughout the world following a widely reported speech by Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the head of the International Monetary Fund, on 10 March 2009: “I think that we can now say that we’ve entered a Great Recession.” Note the capital letters.

This follows a period in which writers had been casting around for a suitable term. William Safire recorded several in his On Language column in the New York Times on 9 February 2009, including credit crunch, market crash and global economic crisis, and wrote of other usages that “Slump is too cheerful and depression too alarmist, especially when capitalized. Economic Armageddon is panic-stricken, though the combination of four-syllable words nicely fills the mouth.”

Catherine Rampell wrote about it, likewise in the New York Times, the day after Mr Strauss-Kahn’s speech, illustrating her comments with a chart taken from the Nexis newspaper database. This showed that the term caught on in December 2008, a landmark usage appearing on the US Federal News Service on 5 December: “Some economists are already calling this ‘the Great Recession’ because they fear it may be longer and deeper than any recession in recent history.” An early example was in an article by Jesse Eisinger in Portfolio, dated April 2008: “The next president will take office during what may well come to be known as the Great Recession.”

Ms Rampell noted that the term isn’t new; it had been used for the earlier downturns of 1974-75, 1979-82, the early 1990s and 2001. Hundreds of examples are on file that refer to these earlier fiscal unhappinesses. Why commentators should keep returning to the term is puzzling, though the desire to be reporting on a catastrophe is innate to every journalist and superlatives sell papers. The difference this time is the stimulus that was given to it by Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s speech.

It seems almost certain now that the current crisis will become the definitive Great Recession and that the next major economic downturn will need some new term. Google News finds almost 6,000 examples in the first six months of 2010. A further pointer to this is that the Associated Press Stylebook — mainstay of newsrooms and a semi-official bible of terminology — added the term in February 2010.

Analysts, art advisers and auction executives concur the world's wealthy have retained great liquidity through the Great Recession and are once again ready to spend and invest.

Daily Telegraph, 13 May 2010.

Fifty-five percent of Americans in the labor force have experienced a job loss, a pay cut, or a reduction in hours since the onset of the Great Recession in 2007, a new survey finds.

Christian Science Monitor, 30 June 2010.

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Page created 21 Mar 2009; Last updated 03 Jul 2010