Dr. Goodword’s Language Blog

A Cratered Metaphor

CraterOne of the US newsy networks has recently discovered the verb to crater and its use is virusing from one network to another.  I understand what it means, but it makes me feel a bit lexically crapulent even though I’m not offended (as you can see) by the tendency in the US to verb nouns relentlessly.

Interesting point: the American Heritage Dictionary and the Free Dictionary give us identical definitions (isn’t that naughty?). Here it is from AHD:

1. To form a crater or craters. 2. Slang a. To fall and crash violently from a great height. b. To fail utterly: “talked about how tough times were in Texas since the oil business cratered” (Stephen Coonts, Under Siege 1990, 1991 (pb)).”

Apparently Mr. Coonts introduced it and it has languished until recently. British dictionaries do not list this meaning, nor does Encarta, and Merriam-Webster lists the slang sense as “collapse, crash”, a sense I still feel is still too far from the image of a crater.

It is currently being used in referece to the precipitous fall of the stock market this month. The slang verb, therefore, is a metaphor for a fall from a great distance.

I think the reason it rubs me wrong is that it is based on the vision of a meteor falling to Earth or some other celestial body and causing a crater. But most craters are caused by explosions on Earth from geysers, bombs, or mines. 

The criticial visual crater gives us is the raised rim around a hole or other indentation. How that object is created is either not a part of the definition or too far removed to provide the connection with falling and crashing.

I don’t think this usage will survive but then I didn’t think google and bling-bling had much of a chance, either.

2 Responses to “A Cratered Metaphor”

  1. WordPron Says:

    “Lexically crapulent.” Lovely. And what a delicious way to refer to our constant verb-izing of nouns. Thanks for a great post; I’m off to glory in McCain cratering his campaign before a national audience…

  2. Stacy A Says:

    In my family we’ve used the term “to crater” as far back as I can remember to mean “to become exhausted,” as in, “That was so hard that when it was over, I just cratered!” Or, “Can we go home now? I’m about to crater!” (This last one was often used when shopping with my mother.)

    I’m from Texas, so maybe it’s a Texas-ism?

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