OnWords: Crisis

Oct 31, 2017

I think we’re using the word “crisis” wrong most of the time.

I don’t usually make such pronouncements, and, frankly, as someone who recognizes that language changes based on how it is used, I’m uncomfortable doing even this.

But right now we seem to have a crisis glut.

North Korea’s nuclear program is a crisis. Immigration is a crisis. Health care is a crisis.

Traditionally, the word “crisis” has referred to a turning point, a time after which everything would dramatically and suddenly change.

It’s possible that by the time this airs, North Korea’s nuclear program may have created a crisis. But chances are that immigration will pose the same set of challenges it did before. And it’s a good bet that health care, whether it gets more or less available and affordable, will, by and large, be fraught with the same set of problems.

Using the term “crisis” is a way people with their own pet issues try to get everyone else to pay attention.

But when we over-use the word “crisis,” we create the classic boy-who-cried-wolf situation: people stop caring entirely.

If everything is a crisis, then nothing is, and those things that we really do need to address right away, such as the plight of refugees and global climate change, become easy to dismiss.         

With all of these crises, we might say that we’re having a crisis-crisis.

But we aren’t.

We’re just plodding along with same old verbal mess.