Posted by: Casey Lybrand | July 7, 2010

The Meaning of Apocalypse: A Revelation

It’s Apocalypse Week here on my blog. Let’s have a Fun Fact of Doom! I’ve mentioned how post-apocalyptic allusions really light my fire. Today I want share one of my favorite facts about words, just in general. Seriously, this one almost broke my brain when I learned it. [1] Today’s Fun Fact of Doom is about the origin and meaning of the word apocalypse.

Why do we use the word apocalypse to mean the end of the world? It’s biblical, really. Here’s how it goes:

Apocalypse means revelation. [2] It’s the same word:

Apocalypse ἀποκάλυψις (Greek) [3]
Apo ἀπό = away from
Kalypsis κάλυψις = a covering
Apocalypse = an uncovering

Revelation rĕvēlātĭo (Latin)
Re = a turning back
Velaris vēlāris = a veil or curtain
Revelation = an uncovering (or unveiling)

We have apocalypse = revelation = unveiling or uncovering. Okay, fine. Then why is an apocalypse the end of the world?

The last book of the New Testament details the end of the world according to John of Patmos. It is called Revelation, or The Revelation of John. As in, that which was revealed – or unveiled, or uncovered – to John about the end of the world. [4]

And the original name of the book of Revelation, in the original Greek? Apokalypsis (ἀποκαλύπτω).

The word apocalypse in Classical Greek had a neutral meaning – it meant revelation, and that was all. The association developed from what, specifically, was “revealed” to John. And now it means the end of world. Fun!

Notes at the foot of the post:

1: Breaking my brain is my idea of a good time. I think lots of people can relate, though some avail themselves to other means to the end. It’s all good.

2: Here’s how the OED defines it:

1. (With capital initial.) The ‘revelation’ of the future granted to St. John in the isle of Patmos. The book of the New Testament in which this is recorded.
2. By extension: Any revelation or disclosure.

Additional definitions, added in 2008, get around to describing the end-of-the-world usage (religious and secular) of the word apocalypse, the first written use of which dates *all* the way back to the 19th century (i.e., pretty recently).

3: Buffy fans and anyone else of curious persuasion: apocalypses (sounds like “sees”).

4: If you have not read the book of Revelation, man — that thing is trippy and wild. I suspect, and I’m not the first to say it, that John was quite the hip and groovy dude. Means, end, etc.


  1. Oh yeah, me thinks them dudes on the bible were tripping big time on something! I love learning the meaning behind words. Very interesting. My fave is Weird which comes from the Anglo-saxon Wyrd and that was the name of one of the fates who controlled man’s destiny.

  2. Thanks, Alannah. I’m glad you enjoyed it. There will be more like this from time to time, because I love learning about words, too!

    Wyrd! Awesome. So, destiny is weird. That tracks.

  3. OK- first of all, I’m loving the Apocalypse Week! :)
    also, I had no idea the word meant ‘uncovering’ but I guess it makes sense…

  4. I’m so glad you’re enjoying it!

    I really have fun with words: I like to break them apart to see what they’re made of. (Don’t worry, I always put them back together when I’m done!)

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