October 13, 2009

Armageddon A Bit Worked Up About All This...

One of my students the other day submitted a paper to me about how the end of the world was fast approaching [editorial comment redacted], in which he liberally used the word Armageddon to refer to said catastrophic event.

In fact, since Armageddon means, according to both OED and MW, a dramatic/catastrophic/decisive conflict, it is, strictly speaking, incorrect to use the word to refer solely to the end of the world via other means — even though the end of the world is often presumed to be a by-product of Armageddon. But when I brought up this particular example with a few other people in the writing department here, they were relatively sanguine about its more generic usage. ("It'll be in the dictionary soon," said one of them.)

Now, as near as I can tell, the only reason for the widespread acceptance of this MISTAKE is the Michael Bay/Jerry Bruckheimer/Bruce Willis box office crapfest of the same name that was released in 1998, presumably without anyone involved consulting a dictionary, in which the world (nearly) comes to an end because of an enormous asteroid impact. And while normally I, too, am relatively sanguine about pop culture affecting the lexicon (I can't get through a day without saying D'oh), this is different: this is pop culture corrupting a very specific existing item in the lexicon, and to me that seems like something over which knickers should be got in a twist. Besides, are we really okay with new generations of children learning to speak English from Jerry freakin' Bruckheimer? Because, let me tell you, I am, on principle, not okay with children learning anything from Jerry Bruckheimer, and I don't see why vocabulary should be any different. What's next? U.S. History according to National Treasure?

So please, next time you happen to be in charge of a group of young minds, make sure you impress upon them the real meaning of Armageddon. Preferably without practical demonstration.


Dustin said...


Languages evolve constantly. Do you really want to be that curmudgeonly old goat forever living in ye olde towne of yesteryear?

Young dude is writing _bleeding edge prose_ there! Get with the times, geezer!

Dye! said...

I respectfully disagree, Dustin. The Apocalypse, of which the Battle of Armageddon is just one small part, is one of the best-known stories in western literature. If someone wrote in a university paper that Chewbacca was an Ewok, you would criticize them for their blatant ignorance, you wouldn't say "language evolves constantly". Same thing goes for Bible stories. You don't have to believe in all the gobbledigook in the sourcebook for these stories, but you should at least know what they are if you are referring to them in a university paper.

Papa' said...

On the whole I'm with Dye! on this, but I have to point out that there's actually the same problem with the word "Apocalypse". What it actually means in the Bible (check Wikipedia if you don't believe me) is "revelation", and the Book of Revelations records a vision (revelation) of God's plan for the end of the world. To be consistent, Dye! would have to reject the "end of the world" meaning of "Apocalypse", and if he doesn't, he's basically accepting Dustin's point, except that he's drawing the line between what's a "mistake" and what's "normal language change" in a different place.

Unclian said...

With regards the pronounciation of "j", i.e. Beizhing and the British Razh, it's affect will momentarily be their.

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