Words for the Apocalypse Now (Or Later)


Apocalypse? by mikelehen

The world probably won’t end tomorrow (if you don’t believe us, ask NASA), but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn about 10 apocalyptic words and their origins.


“White House budget director Jacob Lew used the word ‘Armageddon’ three times on Sunday talk shows, saying a default could lead to a financial crisis that would send interest rates rising and drive up the cost of credit for all Americans.”

Janet Hook and Damian Paletta, “Senate Debt Plan Promises Months of Budget Wrangling,” The Wall Street Journal, July 18, 2011

Armageddon is, in the Bible, “the scene of a final battle between the forces of good and evil, prophesied to occur at the end of the world,” and by that extension, “a decisive or catastrophic conflict.”

The word comes from the Hebrew Har Megiddon, “Mount of Megiddo,” a “city in central Palestine” and a “site of important Israeli battles.”

bitter end

“But she insists that she will fight to the bitter end, which is an end easily foreseen.”

To the Bitter End,” The New York Times, May 4, 1898

The bitter end refers to “a final, painful, or disastrous extremity.” However, the original meaning of the phrase is nautical, “the inboard end of a chain, rope, or cable, especially the end of a rope or cable that is wound around a bitt.” A bitt is “a strong post of wood or iron to which cables are made fast,” and is related to the Old Norse biti, “crossbeam.”

Bitter, meaning “unpalatable; hard to swallow, literally or figuratively,” comes from the Old English biter, “bitter, sharp, cutting; angry, embittered; cruel.” Bitter end is perhaps a play on this sense of bitter.


“Saturday was the start of their doomsday period and they expected dire calamities. When nothing too terrible transpired they were sure that meant merely the worst horrors would come Monday when the sun was swallowed. But out in New Guinea a team of Japanese scientists reported observing the solar blackout for nearly three minutes and nothing unusual resulted.”

Doomsday Comes, Goes Uneventfully,” The Milwaukee Sentinel, February 5, 1962

Doomsday is “the day of the last judgment,” or “any day of sentence or condemnation.” The word doom comes from the Old English dom, “judgment.” Doomsday machine attests from 1960, says the Online Etymology Dictionary.


“Rapture and Rand: What a couple of sexy, compelling twins! They’re the Mary Kate and Ashley of late capitalist eschatology.”

Ellis Weiner, “Rapture and Rand: Two Peas in a Pod,” The Huffington Post, May 6, 2011

Eschatology is “the doctrine of the last or of final things; that branch of theology which treats of the end of the world and man’s condition or state after death.”

Eschatology comes from the Greek word for “last,” eskhatos, which also gives us eschaton, “day at the end of time following Armageddon when God will decree the fates of all individual humans according to the good and evil of their earthly lives.”


“The forewarning of the end of the world was to be the great winter, three years in duration, which the Eddas call Fimbulwinter. ‘Every man’s hand shall be turned against his brother, and sisters’ children shall their kinship rend asunder; no man shall another spare.'”

Charles Francis Keary, Outlines of Primitive Belief Among the Indo-European Races, 1882

Fimbulwinter is, in Norse mythology, “one of the signs of the onset of the end of this world” which marks “marks the coming of the Ragnarok, the battle that will end the world.”

Fimbulwinter was also a black metal band that “was part of the early Norwegian black metal scene.” The band formed in 1992 and split in 1994.

The word Fimbulwinter translates from Old Norse as “mighty or great winter.”


“What the world is witnessing in France these summer days it the unfolding of a Gaullist Gotterdammerung. It is no longer possible to take President de Gaulle or his regime seriously.”

Allan Harvey, “Gotterdammerung Plays Paris,” The Sun, August 5, 1967

Götterdämmerung is, in German mythology, “a myth about the ultimate destruction of the gods in a battle with evil,” and figuratively, “any cataclysmic downfall or momentous, apocalyptic event, especially of a regime or an institution.”

The word translates from the German as “twilight of the gods,” and was used by German composer Richard Wagner “as the title of the last opera in the Ring cycle.”


“Mr Izzo is a ‘prepper’, one of a growing number of Americans who are preparing their homes and families to survive a major disaster they believe could arrive at any time.”

Madeleine Morris, “Americans Get Set for Disaster Day,” BBC News, March 26, 2010

A prepper is “a person who goes to great lengths to prepare for a natural or man-made disaster.” The earliest citation is from 1999, says Word Spy.

Prepper is also British slang for a prep school student. Preppy refers to “a person whose manner and dress are deemed typical of traditional preparatory schools.” The word originated in the early 1960s, says the Online Etymology Dictionary.


“The gods themselves looked forward to a time of defeat and death, when Asgard should perish in flames and the world with it, and the sun and moon should be darkened, and they themselves should be slain. This great day was called Ragnarok, or sometimes the Twilight of the Gods.”

William Morris, The Story of Sigurd the Volsung, 1922

Ragnarok is, in Norse mythology, “the final battle between gods and giants, involving all creation, which brings the end of the world as it is known and almost all life.” The word comes from the Old Norse ragna, “the gods,” and either rök, “destined end,” or rökr, “twilight.”


“There will be a resurrection followed by the millennium, 1,000 years of earthly paradise with Jesus ruling the world from Jerusalem. And just before the tribulation breaks out, there will be a ‘rapture’–the true believers will be snatched up to a position halfway between heaven and earth, where they will ride out the seven bad years.”

Robert McClory, “The Gospel According to Thomas Sheehan,” The Chicago Reader, April 20, 1989

The word rapture has multiple meanings, including “the state of being transported by a lofty emotion; ecstasy”; “an expression of ecstatic feeling”; “the transporting of a person from one place to another, especially to heaven.”

In the sense of “the transport of believers to heaven at the Second Coming of Christ,” rapture is short for rapture of the Church, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

Rapture comes from the Latin rapere, “seize, carry off,”


“Since August 1945, hundreds of ‘nuclear’ movies have appeared. At least one American ‘nuclear’ film was a work of genius (Dr. Strangelove). . . .But more often the fear of nuclear war in Hollywood spawned survivalist fantasies, irradiated-monster films and post-apocalypse thrillers.”

Greg Mitchell, “How Harry Truman Edited the First Hollywood Film About the Atomic Bomb,” The Huffington Post, August 4, 2010

A survivalist is “one who has personal or group survival as a primary goal in the face of difficulty, opposition, and especially the threat of natural catastrophe, nuclear war, or societal collapse.” This sense of the word originated in the mid 1980s.

[Photo: CC BY 2.0 by mikelehen]