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'Armageddon' or 'Apocalypse'?

Watching the new show "Good Omens," we started wondering about the difference between Armageddon and the apocalypse.

By
Samantha Enslen, read by Mignon Fogarty,
Episode #695

The past couple weeks, we’ve been watching a new series on Amazon Prime called “Good Omens.” It’s based on a book written by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. Gaiman is a fiction and film author who came up with the Sandman series of comic books. Pratchett is a fantasy author who’s best know for his 41-book Discworld series.

“Good Omens” tells the story of an angel and a devil who band together to try to stop the end of the world — also known as Armageddon.

That got us thinking: what exactly does “Armageddon” mean? Is it the same thing as the “apocalypse”? And why is the first word capitalized, but the second one isn’t?

Let’s take a look.

'Armageddon' Refers to the Final Battle Between Good and Evil

The word “Armageddon” comes from Christianity. It refers to the final battle between good and evil, when the kings of the earth, under the leadership of demons, are supposed to wage war on the forces of good. 

According to the Bible, in Revelation 16:16, this giant battle is supposed to occur “in a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon.”

Armageddon is probably a reference to a real-life town in Israel called Megiddio.

That probably refers to the real-life town of “Megiddo” in northern Israel. Back in the day, Megiddo was an important town; it lay at the crossing of two military and trade routes, right between Egypt and Syria. It had been the scene of many important battles and for this reason, it may have been chosen as the logical place for the final battle.

As for how “Megiddo” became “Armageddon”: in Hebrew, the prefix “har” means “hill.” Thus “har Megiddo” became “Armageddon.” The Oxford English Dictionary shows that it was actually written as “Hermagedon” in what is known as the Wycliffe Bible or Wycliffite Bible, an early English translation from Latin published in the 1380s associated with the English priest and activist, John Wycliff.

Does 'Armageddon' Mean 'Apocalypse'?

So, are Armageddon and apocalypse the same thing? They have different derivations, but they’ve come to have similar meanings. 

“Apocalypse” comes from a Greek word meaning “to uncover” or “to reveal.” In the original biblical sense, an apocalypse was a revelation, the prophecy of cataclysmic events. In fact, the biblical Book of Revelation is sometime also know as the Apocalypse of John because it describes John’s visions of the end of the world. The battle at Armageddon is actually one of the events included in the apocalypse—one of the events John mentions in Revelation. So in the biblical sense, Armageddon is kind of a subset of the apocalypse.

You can think of Armageddon as a subset of the apocalypse.

In common use though, we now use the word “apocalypse” or the adjective “apocalyptic” to refer to any disaster that would result in dramatic, irreversible damage to humanity or the environment. 

For example,

Diplomats are working to avoid a nuclear apocalypse.

or

We took to the hills after the zombie apocalypse.

“Armageddon” has a nearly identical meaning: any catastrophe that would likely destroy the human race — or the entire world —  but technically, it’s best used to describe something like a specific conflict or battle. 

For example,

If they don’t reach a nuclear accord, it could start Armageddon.

or 

Zombies surrounded the building and our team went out to fight them off. It’s Armageddon out there!

Spelling Notes

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A couple tiny notes about spelling: When you’re writing these words, remember that “Armageddon” has one G and two D’s. Those are easy to reverse. Maybe you can remember by thinking that Armageddon is the battle at the end, and the doubled letter comes at the end. 

And remember that “Armageddon” is capitalized, but “apocalypse” isn’t. That’s because Armageddon is a proper noun, referring to one specific battle. In contrast, there could be many apocalypses. Let’s just hope there aren’t — especially the zombie kind.

That segment was written by Samantha Enslen, who runs Dragonfly Editorial. You can find her at DragonflyEditorial.com or on Twitter as @DragonflyEdit.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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