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The evolution of the word “terror”

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Terror comes into English in the late fourteenth century, partly from Middle French terreur, and partly directly from Latin terror. The word means both “the state of being greatly frightened” and “the cause of that state,” an ambiguity that is central to its future political meanings. In Early Modern English, terror comes to stand for a state of fear provoked on the very edge of the social. That state is associated with the god Pan and the fear that grips men when they feel themselves removed from any social contact. It also stands for death itself. The political meanings of terror date from the period March 1793 to July 1794, when the use of organized intimidation became an instrument of policy for the Jacobins and Robespierre. Interestingly, the announcement of terror as public policy was as much an attempt to claim the breakdown of social order as a government policy as it was a deliberate attempt to cause that breakdown. Throughout the first half of the nineteenth century, “a. . .

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News source: Linguistics – OUPblog

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