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Rewind: Katrina Buzzword Explainer

Originally Published September 7, 2005

In commemoration of the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina making landfall on the city of New Orleans and environs, we are republishing our original report about the impact of the disaster on the English Language.

Media Abounds With Apocalyptic-type References in Coverage of Katrina

Disaster, Biblical, Global Warming, Hiroshima Top List

‘Refugee’ vs. ‘Evacuee’

San Diego, Calif. September 7, 2005. In an exclusive analysis by The Global Language Monitor, the worldwide media was found to abound in Apocalyptic-type terminology in its coverage of the unfolding disaster of Hurricane Katrina in the American Gulf States. Using its proprietary PQI (Predictive Quantities Indicator) algorithm, GLM found the ominous references to include: Disaster, Biblical, Global Warming, Hiroshima/Nuclear bomb, Catastrophe, Holocaust, Apocalypse, and End-of-the-World.

“These alarmist references are coming across the spectrum of print and electronic media, and the internet,” said Paul JJ Payack, president of GLM. “The world appears stunned that the only remaining super power has apparently been humbled, on its own soil, by the forces of nature.”

The global media are mesmerized by the constant bombardment of television images of apparently rampaging, out-of-control elements, apparently in control of a good part of New Orleans, as well as the inability of the authorities to keep their own people fed, sheltered, evacuated, and, even, from dying on the street.

‘Refugee vs. ‘Evacuee’

GLM’s analysis found, for example, that the term for the displaced, refugees, that is usually associated with places like the Sudan and Afghanistan, appeared 5 times more frequently in the global media than the more neutral ‘evacuees,’ which was cited as racially motivated by some of the Black leadership. Accordingly, most of the major media outlets in the U.S. eliminated the usage of the word ‘refugees’ with a few exceptions, most notably, the New York Times.

The September 3 edition of The Times (London) has a story to illustrate the current state of affairs. The head: “Devastation that could send an area the size of England back to the Stone Age.”

The first 100 words sum up the pervasive mood found in the GLMs analysis of the Global Media.

AMERICA comes to an end in Montgomery, Alabama.For the next 265 miles to the Gulf Coast, it has been replaced by a dangerous and paranoid post-apocalyptic landscape, short of all the things fuel, phones, water and electricity needed to keep the 21st century switched on. By the time you reach Waveland, Mississippi, the coastal town of 6,800 where corpses lie amid a scene of Biblical devastation, any semblance of modern society has gone. “

According to GLM’s analysis, the most frequently used terms associated with Hurricane Katrina in the global media with examples follow. The terms are listed in order of relative frequency.

  • Disaster — The most common, and perhaps neutral, description. Literally ‘against the stars’ in Latin. Example: ” Disaster bares divisions of race and class across the Gulf states”. Toronto Globe and Mail.
  • Biblical — Used as an adjective. Referring to the scenes of death, destruction and mayhem chronicled in the Bible. ” …a town of 6,800 where corpses lie amid a scene of Biblical devastation”. (The Times, London)
  • Global Warming — The idea that the hand of man was directly responsible for the catastrophe, as opposed to the more neutral climate change. “…German Environmental Minister Jrgen Trittin remains stolid in his assertion that Hurricane Katrina is linked to global warming and America’s refusal to reduce emissions.” (Der Spiegel)
  • Hiroshima/Nuclear Destruction — Fresh in the mind of the media, following the 60th anniversary of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. “Struggling with what he calls Hurricane Katrina’s nuclear destruction, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour shows the emotional strain of leading a state through a disaster of biblical proportions”. (Associated Press).
  • Catastrophe — Sudden, often disastrous overturning, ruin, or undoing of a system. “In the Face of Catastrophe, Sites Offer Helping Hands”. (Washington Post)
  • Holocaust — Because of historical association, the word is seldom used to refer to death brought about by natural causes. ” December’s Asian catastrophe should have elevated “tsunami” practically to the level of “holocaust” in the world vocabulary, implying a loss of life beyond compare and as callous as this might make us seem, Katrina was many things, but “our tsunami” she wasn’t. (Henderson [NC] Dispatch)
  • Apocalypse — Referring to the prophetic visions of the imminent destruction of the world, as found in the Book of Revelations. ” Call it apocalyptic. Whatever you want to call it, take your pick. There were bodies floating past my front door. ” said Robert Lewis, who was rescued as floodwaters invaded his home. (Reuters)
  • End of the World — End-time scenarios which presage the Apocalypse. ” “This is like time has stopped Its like the end of the world.” (Columbus Dispatch)

Then there are those in the media linking Katrina with the direct intervention of the hand of an angry or vengeful God, though not necessarily aligned with Americas enemies. “The Terrorist Katrina is One of the Soldiers of Allah, But Not an Adherent of Al-Qaeda,” was written by a high-ranking Kuwaiti official, Muhammad Yousef Al-Mlaifi, director of the Kuwaiti Ministry of Endowment’s research center. It was published in Al-Siyassa. (Kuwait).

List of Top Ten Hurricanes

Etymology of the Name Katrina > Catriona > Katherine

Top Ten Disasters in US History

The Climate Change Question

Retired Hurricane Names

Future Hurricane Names (Global)

Note: Hurricane Alpha has now been named marking the busiest Atlantic Hurricane season on record … therefore the tropical ‘events’ were named beta, then gamma, delta … and it seemed they would go on through the Greek Alphabet. Here’s the entire Greek Alphabet:

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