The other day I was watching a debate on TV on the subject 'Should it be compulsory to learn English?' The speaker chosen to oppose the idea was Vladimir Zhirinovskiy – a politician who many people in Europe think is a dangerous extremist.

Magazine - Revolution


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by John Kuti

The other day I was watching a debate on TV on the subject 'Should it be compulsory to learn English?' The speaker chosen to oppose the idea was Vladimir Zhirinovskiy – a politician who many people in Europe think is a dangerous extremist. He said that one of the causes of the problems in Russia’s sad history in the 20th century was the use of imported words which people didn’t fully understand. 'Revolution' (or the Russian word 'revolyutsia') was one of these. He also mentioned 'communism' and 'privatisation'. If you use other words like 'revolt', 'rebellion' or 'coup d’état' the idea of changing the government by force seems a lot less attractive. Calling some important change 'a revolution' can make people think it is good, or maybe that it’s something that no one can stop, as the Marxists used to say.

Going forwards

Since the 19th century there has been an idea that certain changes in society must happen. Are you optimistic about the human race? I guess most people still are. I think most people believe in Progress … you know: 'Scientists get closer to the truth. Societies improve. We’ve never had it so good. A Pentium 4 is better than a Pentium 3'.

I think it is dangerous when someone says that all our problems will be solved by new technology, or by choosing a government with a more modern ideology. Revolutions seem to depend on the hope of a beautiful future, maybe that’s why they end in disappointment. Some people are so optimistic that they can forget about reality altogether. They can make logic work backwards … I remember, back in my days as a student political activist, having arguments about Chinese history with the young members of The Socialist Workers’ Party – enthusiasts for revolution. They used to say that there had been no revolution in China. This was because the results had not been the happy ones that they expected.

What’s another word for it?

If you look on the website you can find words with similar meanings to the one you type in. Starting with 'revolution' the visual thesaurus gives:

coup coup d’état insurgency
insurrection mutiny putsch
revolt takeover uprising

Which word to choose?

When you want to choose a word really carefully it’s a good idea to see how other people use it. In my experiment I used the Times newspaper from March 1995, and a 'concordancer', which lets you look at how words are used. You can choose different materials instead of The Times, but I thought a newspaper would have more about politics. It mentions one revolution the socialist workers might agree really happened 'Cuba’s Marxist revolution' but also one change of style by a Marxist government 'China’s cultural revolution,' and two changes of government where the Marxists lost power: 'Czechoslovakia’s velvet revolution' and 'Estonia’s singing revolution'.

However, more often than any of these, 'revolution' is just used to talk about a general change in the way people live or work. The most common of these is the 'industrial revolution' which happened more than 200 years ago in Britain when they started making steam engines and factories. The newspaper thinks these other revolutions might be happening now …

Educational revolution, Sexual revolution, Information revolution, Telemarketing revolution,Training revolution,

When something not so big or important happens you can still call it a 'minor revolution'. The Times reports one minor revolution in Edinburgh – people starting to live in some old buildings that had been used as offices for a long time.

Of the other words in my list 'coup' is used most often. This is a short way of saying 'coup d’état' and it usually refers to a revolution organised by people who are already quite close to the top of the government. A revolution organised by people a long way from power might be better called an 'uprising'.

In The Times, 'a revolt' or 'a mutiny' usually happens inside a British political party when ordinary Members of Parliament disagree with the leaders of their party. But the newspaper also mentions a revolt by shareholders who did not agree with the managers of the company they had invested in.

'Takeover' belongs especially to the field of business. In March 1995 there was a big story about the 'hostile takeover bid' by Glaxo for another pharmaceutical company – Wellcome.

I think Zhirinovskiy was right – 'revolution' is a word that makes you want to believe in it. It means 'this is better than what there was before'. Of course, The Times is not a revolutionary newspaper, but in this case it chooses words just like those 'socialist worker' students optimistically waiting for the revolution which will automatically make everything better.





Revolutions are the way people scream their inconformities of the way they are living, and it's a great way to change the things you don't agree with to leave your comfort zone and start to renew your life and the life of the people you live with, the society you are in contact almoste very day.

Good article. Words are really powerful, above all when regarding political and social situations. I do agree about the "positive meaning" that the word revolution can has, but I also think that we all are influenced by history in this sense. Nowadays, "revolution" has become a dangerous word that implies blood and violence, no matter what. This happens because, actually, in the past revolutions almost never have resolved pacifically.
In my view, in past decades "revolution" could be a word that ispired freedom and emancipation, but now it is just a term that designs an ideological contrast or a different position from the status quo, but it seems not to lead to effective changes, because its meaning is full of violence and fear, acquired from the past. But maybe I am too negative..
Anyway, I totally agree with the fact that words have a huge power and we must to be careful in using them.

This is a great article because it makes think on how words are powerful: if you talk about "revolution" the most of the people will think at a change that is necessary for society, instead using "coup" you'll think about a struggle at the top of powers and so on... The choice of words for describing history makes it happen in a way instead of in another. What's sure is that there is at least more than one unique truth for each historical and human event.

Well,I believe there is no need of revolutions.The revolutions probably get bloody and often end up a failure.But i believe that a vote has more power to change the system than a revolution.

Good article... thank you for share with us. Also revolutions should be for benefit of all people.

I do agree, revolution has been a trend in politics and looks sexy when talked about.....
My country Nepal has seen so called political and social revolution for 4 times in last 70 years still it is going on......
there is no any away out of it .......  society loves change.... revolution brings change...  with new faces in power..... for general public all is same there is only hope nothing more...... hope of another greater  revolution that brings ultimate change...( but what it is???).

Great article, I'm from Colombia and  think it would be great to talk about what happen in south America, in Venezuela a man reins for 14 years and his legacy is still running the country that's some kind of revolution, in Colombia there is a figure of a president who rule for a long time and still has some power despite his no longer the president (Uribe), and he change so many things.

it's a very urgent topic to discuss

Hello everybody,  I´m from Venezuela.  very good this topic!!!