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Either in this spelling or as crisatunity, this word blends crisis and opportunity. It’s occasionally used by writers and political activists for a problem or difficulty that provides an opportunity to communicate their views and mobilise support.

The term derives from a 1994 episode of The Simpsons, in which Homer’s daughter Lisa tells him that the Chinese use the same word both for crisis and opportunity. Homer replies, “Yes! Cris-atunity!”

Lisa is wrong, by the way: the story about the Chinese word is folk etymology. Ben Zimmer wrote about it on Language Log in 2007, finding it in a rather different form from as long ago as 1938:

The Chinese term for crisis is “danger-opportunity” (危機). Without the danger there cannot arise the opportunity. It is very fitting then that in this time of “danger-opportunity” there should go forth a call to a Forward Movement in the Christian Church in China.

Chinese Recorder, Jan. 1938.

Ben Zimmer also discovered that this story was widely repeated in the years that followed, though it’s nonsense, as breaking the Chinese term into its constituent characters makes roughly as much sense as arguing that locomotive means “crazy incentive”.

A writer in 1943 muddled matters by suggesting there was a Chinese proverb that equated crisis with opportunity. Lisa’s version is a more recent streamlining of the tale that likewise replaces danger with crisis. In this folk-etymologically befuddled form, it is now a modern proverb, appropriate for energising the workers when a sticky situation impends. Crisitunity is a handily abbreviated version.

Abortion-rights groups, which see contributions rise when their opponents are in power, have long known about crisatunity, even if they didn’t call it that.

New York Times, 8 Jan. 2010.

None of these ideas are new. Legislators have been half-heartedly jawing about them for years. But the state’s budget “crisitunity,” as Homer Simpson would say, has finally created the incentive to do a few right things.

Providence Journal, 26 Jan. 2009.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 6 Feb. 2010

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
This page URL: http://www.worldwidewords.org/turnsofphrase/tp-cri2.htm
Last modified: 6 February 2010.