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Austerians — economists and politicians who believe the only way out of a financial crisis is through painful spending cuts — were in the news in May 2013. In Britain it was because of an impending visit by officials from the International Monetary Fund, which had declared in April 2013 that the austerian policies of the British coalition government were damaging recovery. More widely it had been topical because errors had been found in research by the economists Ken Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart on the relationship between high ratios of debt and GDP, research that was the basis of much of the policies of austerity worldwide.

An isolated example of austerian is on record from 1996 but it seems to have been reinvented around June 2010. Its popularity rose sharply in 2013 — in the UK, it had appeared in print more often in the first three months of that year than in the whole of the previous three. The word was given greater visibility through the writings of the Nobel prize-winning economist Paul Krugman, who opposes austerian policies, calling them “delusional”.

Though austerian appears to be a no more than a derivative of austerity, it has been claimed that it was coined as an insiders’ joke, a pun on Austrian, a reference to the school of economic thought typified by Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises.

Recent examples from newspapers:

At this point, the austerian position has imploded; not only have its predictions about the real world failed completely, but the academic research invoked to support that position has turned out to be riddled with errors, omissions and dubious statistics.

Paul Krugman, in the New York Times, 25 Apr. 2013.

Although Mr Osborne’s team argue that his fiscal plan was never as rigid as critics claimed, the chancellor has plainly decided that the time has come to argue that he is not the hard-nosed austerian of popular image.

Financial Times, 27 Apr. 2013.

As an independent creation of the 1990s, Austerian, often with an initial capital letter, refers to the style of the American novelist Paul Auster.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 18 May 2013

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
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Last modified: 18 May 2013.