1. to become much worse or more serious, or to make something do this
2. to increase, especially at a fast rate that causes problems
Origin and usage
The word escalate comes from the Italian word ‘scalare’ meaning ‘to climb by means of a ladder’. The noun escalade was first used in English during the 1590s to mean ‘using ladders to scale the walls of a fortress’. In the 1920s, the verb escalate was coined with the meaning ‘use an escalator’ and in the late 1950s the meaning was expanded to mean ‘increase rapidly’, mostly in reference to the threat of nuclear attack.
Escalate refers to the way a bad situation can quickly or suddenly become much worse. One place where this can often happen is on a plane, when people may sometimes act in ways that are out of character due to the inconveniences of air travel or anxiety caused by the stress of flying. This has a way of making minor problems between ticket-holders and airline employees escalate.
In the past several years, many airlines have faced public backlash due to the way some tense situations have been poorly handled by employees, causing arguments to escalate to the point where security has been forced to get involved or people have been physically harmed.
To prevent this, some airlines are now training workers to de-escalate conflicts with passengers before they get out of hand. The training involves teaching airline employees communication skills and how to stay calm when they realize someone might be filming them with a smartphone. Some airlines have even given customer service representatives more freedom in offering greater compensation to inconvenienced travellers — money can put a swift end to a conflict that’s about to escalate.
“Our technological powers increase, but the side effects and potential hazards also escalate.”
worsen, compound, increase
View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.