Many Indian students and journalists give a false tinge to the much-used word, crisis.
They loosely use it to signify shortage or deficiency of something.
A few online dictionaries and thesaurus accept this meaning, though.
Some careless writers give strain to the word to describe a shortage or deficiency of something. They are so obsessed with the word that they even write “acute crisis” or “crisis deepens.”
Yet, such expressions occasionally spawn laughter among careful readers. Shortage of something may deepen or something may happen because of acute shortage of water or electricity or food.
It is, however, illogical to say “crisis deepens” or “acute crisis,” since this word itself indicates a situation that does not require any adjectives to qualify it.
Let us see what the authorities of the English language say about this word.
According to Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (SOED), so far, the best of all the dictionaries in the world, other than the twenty volumes of Oxford English Dictionary, it has originated from Greek “krisis” that means decision, judgement, event, issue, turning point of a disease.
The dictionary further says, it is also used in astrology. A conjunction of planets determining the issue of a disease or a critical point in the course of events. That way covid-19 pandemic was a crisis for humanity.
In general sense, it is used to describe a turning point, a vitally important or decisive stage; a time of trouble; danger or suspense in politics, commerce or in personal life. For example, mid-life crisis, SOED says.
Crisis management: the action or practice of taking managerial action when a crisis has developed.
When his son-in-law had that financial crisis, due to speculation in Oil shares, James made himself ill worrying over it— John Galsworthy.
The threat of war was just over the horizon and no one else had the prestige and knowledge to carry on through a crisis – E Roosevelt
What the alienists call a ‘crisis of identity’ – J. Critchely
In all the sentences, what is evident is that the word “crisis” signifies a turning point. In the first sentence, the financial “crisis” led to the illness of James. Therefore, it was a turning point in the life of James. In the second sentence, Roosevelt uses “crisis” to indicate a time of trouble. Similarly, the “crisis of identity” has become a turning point for alienists.
The Right Word at the Right Time, A Guide to English Language and How to Use it published by Reader’s Digest, also says “crisis” entered English from Latin, which borrowed it from the Greek “Krisis,” a turning point or to separate or to decide.
Deep within the word, then, is the notion of a decisive switch – specifically a switch that is on the verge of happening or that threatens to happen.
Food crisis may happen because of inadequate rainfall. So, the lack of rainfall may lead to a food crisis.
Therefore, whether the word is used of a disease, a drama, or a political state of affairs, it should suggest that some sudden change is about to take place.
“Nonetheless, a careful writer avoids it in the loose sense that it recently acquired – any serious, urgent, worrying or dangerous state of affairs,” the book says.
The expression mid-life crisis is used to indicate turning-point in life. It is close to the etymological meaning of the word.
Another authority on the English language “Writing with Style” published by The Economist advises students, teachers and writers to avoid this word. It says, “Not everything is a crisis.”
It further says, “Many of the economic and political conditions described as crises are really persistent troubles which, though unpleasant, can be borne for a long time.
Therefore, teachers, students and those working on the desk of any newspaper must consult a good dictionary before using the word “crisis.”