apocalipsis / apocalypse

Here are the two definitions of apocalypse offered by the Macmillan Dictionary:

a time when the whole world will be destroyed;
a situation in which many people die and many things are destroyed.

The first explanation in the plain-speaking Your Dictionary is similar:

An apocalypse is an event that causes a tremendous amount of damage, perhaps even so much damage that the world ends.

Those definitions, which accord with the way many English speakers use the word, are secular, but apocalypse originated as a religious term, which it still is. In fact Apocalipsis/Apocalypse is one name for the last book in the New Testament. That understanding of the word is the only one given in the Diccionario de la Real Academia Española:

Último libro canónico del Nuevo Testamento. Contiene las revelaciones escritas por el apóstol San Juan, referentes en su mayor parte al fin del mundo.

Because that’s the only definition in the DRAE, I thought that perhaps Spanish hasn’t given the word the extended meaning that English has, but an Internet search shows otherwise. In fact all of the first Spanish hits I found were variations on a theme:

cómo sobrevivir a un apocalipsis zombie;

Profesor de Harvard: “Un apocalipsis zombie podría ser posible”;

Eventually came a financial example:

Citi prevé un Apocalipsis en España para 2013.

The catastrophic sense of apocalipsis/apocalypse comes from the description of the end of the world given in the last book of the Christian Bible, but the word itself, at least in terms of etymology, is neutral. It traces back, via Latin, to a Greek compound made up of apo ‘off’ (which appeared as well in the aposematism of the last post) and kaluptein ‘to cover,’ so the literal sense is ‘an uncovering,’ a meaning conveyed by the Latin-based name for the book, Revelación/Revelation.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. shoreacres
    Dec 05, 2012 @ 10:48:12

    Quick! Name the four horsemen! Yep, that’s right: pestilence, war, famine and death. It’s really amazing how deeply “apocalypse” has penetrated into the culture. There’s the film “Apocalypse Now”, of course, but plenty of less immediately obvious references: “Horseman, Pass By”, “Pale Horse, Pale Rider” and Guernica come to mind.

    And then there’s the CDC’s use of the possibility of a zombie apocalypse to promote the need for disaster preparedness .

    If we could uncover what led to that, it really might be revelatory.


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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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