Words in the News


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Liz Potter
Written by Liz Potter

A prominent news story in the UK this week concerned the publication of a range of Brexit scenarios produced by a range of government departments including the Treasury. The headline finding was that the UK economy would be worse off in 2035-36 under all possible scenarios, with hits to the economy ranging from GDP being 0.6% lower than it would have been under the Prime Minister’s favoured (and now abandoned) Chequers plan to a 7.7% drop under a disorderly ‘no deal’ exit, rising to 9.3% if net immigration from the EU and EEA were to fall to zero.

Supporters of Brexit and others were quick to point out that these projections are scenarios, not forecasts. Macmillan Dictionary defines a scenario as ‘a situation that could possibly happen‘ while a forecast is a statement about what is likely to happen. This is the first meaning of scenario covered in our dictionary, which means it is the most frequently used today. The original meaning, however, is ‘a written description of what happens in a play or film’. This meaning, which comes from Italian and ultimately from the Latin word ‘scena’ meaning ‘scene’, dates back to the 18th century in relation to the theatre and the beginning of the 20th century for the film use. The meaning used in the news story dates from as recently as the early 1960s, since when it has become rather common.

The disorderly no-deal exit has been described by some as a worst-case scenario, while we could describe the other as a best-case scenario. Worst-case is the most frequent collocate found with scenario, but there are many others including likely, possible, realistic and nightmare. You can find a list of these in the Collocates box at the entry. The most menacing type of scenario is a Doomsday scenario, one that involves death and destruction on a huge scale.

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Liz Potter

Liz Potter

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