Yeah yeah, I know, economics is the dismal science, yada yada…but did you ever stop and wonder where that phrase came from?
“The dismal science” is a derogatory alternative name for economics devised by the Victorian historian Thomas Carlyle in the 19th century. The term is an inversion of the phrase “gay science,” meaning “life-enhancing knowledge”, a reference to the technical skills of song and verse writing. This was a familiar expression at the time, and was later adopted as the title of a book by Nietzsche (see The Gay Science).
It is often stated that Carlyle gave economics the nickname “the dismal science” as a response to the late 18th century writings of The Reverend Thomas Robert Malthus, who grimly predicted that starvation would result as projected population growth exceeded the rate of increase in the food supply.
(Sidenote: Does this mean that economists were wrong in their predictions even back then? =P)
Wow, I don’t know which of the “gay science” or the “dismal science” is the lesser of the two evils in terms of naming- one is outdated and the other is just depressing. All I know is that people seem to really latch onto the dismal science bit, whereas I haven’t heard the gay science thing thrown around in quite some time. For example, via ECONJEFF:
Dear cartoonists: You are really not helping my marketing. xoxo, econgirl