“reached a crescendo”
I’ve just finished reading Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life – a novel which starts from a brilliant premise and is absorbing for the first 200 pages or so, but struck me as rather tedious and laboured for the last 300 – but that’s by the way. My topic for discussion today is that Atkinson uses the familiar but wrong phrase reached a crescendo. Why do so many writers use this crashingly mistaken expression? Crescendo means “getting louder”. It’s a process, not a final stage to be reached. And I bet Kate Atkinson knows that, too. What she really meant was “reached a climax”; or, if she wanted to keep the musical metaphor, “reached fortissimo”.
Crescendo is an interesting word. It literally means “growing”; it appears in different form in the English term crescent moon (“growing moon”), and also in the French word croissant, which is, of course, crescent-shaped.