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Austerity is here to stay

The 1948 Summer Olympics, held in a London that still bore the scars of World War II, came to be known as the Austerity Games. No special accommodation was built for the athletes, who were housed in RAF barracks and university halls of residence. They were, however, allowed much bigger food rations than the general population. Six years later, food rationing finally came to an end in the UK; and while recessions have come and gone, those who have grown up in the decades since then have scarcely known what Macmillan Dictionary describes as ‘a situation in which economic conditions are bad and living standards fall’.  But with the Games returning this summer to a city transformed almost beyond recognition, austerity continues to be a hot topic, just as it was last year when BuzzWords author Kerry Maxwell named it as her Word of the Year.

The first meaning of austerity given by Macmillan Dictionary is not the one referred to above, however, but a more strictly economic one:

an economic policy by which a government reduces the amount of money it spends by a large amount

This meaning of austerity is just as topical as the more general one. The crisis of the euro, and the global economic crisis in general, have led many governments to implement unprecedented cuts to their spending, leading to popular unrest. News reports from the past few days tell of anti-austerity protests in several European countries, and austerity Britain has once again become a familiar compound noun. Meanwhile, the organizers of the London Olympics’ opening and closing ceremonies have announced that bands performing in the shows will be paid a nominal fee of £1. Austerity, it seems, will be with us yet awhile, which may explain why lookups of the word in the Macmillan Dictionary jumped by 152% in the first three weeks of this month.

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Liz Potter

Liz Potter

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