The surreal world in the New York Times article depicted by a seasoned editor at Harper’s Magazine who was laid off recently and experiencing bitter world, under the title, ‘A Beginner’s Guide to Unemployment’ was entertaining as well as relevant to me.

However I can’t understand phrases, “The great whatever this is,” and “It can’t double dip if it never comes back up.” the writer quoted in the following sentence. Are they 'so called' buzz words? Why do you need to place ‘up’ after ‘never come back’? Can somebody teach me what do these two phrases mean?

Lately it seems people have grown inordinately fond of using the word surreal to describe circumstances and events that are in fact only new and confusing. Take for example last week, when I had the misfortune to be laid off after six mostly satisfactory years from my job at Harper’s Magazine. My friends and relatives insisted almost in unison that I admit to the surrealism of falling victim to what another friend has taken to calling “The Great Whatever This Is,” and which I like to refer to as the “It Can’t Double Dip if It Never Comes Back Up.”

  • 1
    Boy, that's pretty poor writing from the NYT. Feb 10, 2011 at 22:43
  • 3
    I don't think the writing is all that horrible. It gets across a lot of ideas in just a few words through the use of creative imagery/analogy.
    – Marthaª
    Feb 10, 2011 at 23:06
  • 3
    I love, love, love these NYT questions of yours! It’s like walking through your native city with a friend from out-of-town: she points out beautiful, fascinating, extraordinary things on every street corner, things you’d normally walk past without noticing because you’ve seen them every day of your life…
    – PLL
    Feb 11, 2011 at 1:24

3 Answers 3


These are economics / economic history terms. Given that the article is about unemployment I think the Great X referred to here is "The Great Depression", and the recent coinage "The Great Recession"...hence, "The Great...whatever this is."

As for "double-dip", that refers to the economy going down sharply, then rising, then falling sharply again. The shape of the curve is a double dip. What the author is saying is that a double-dip (which everyone is afraid of) isn't possible unless there's a rise after the first decline.

  • 2
    Chris. I know what 'doble-dip' means. My take of 'It can't double dip ...' is 'there is no duble dip as long as there is no 'up' after the first (current) dip. Is this interpletation right? I would like to know how do you paraphrase the above two phrases (or translate them into plainer English) in easier phrase for me to understand. Feb 11, 2011 at 0:02
  • 1
    Yes, your interpretation is exactly right. How about this: "we don't have to worry about a double-dip; if we never get out of the first recession, we don't have to worry about a second recession following closely after it." Feb 11, 2011 at 0:04
  • 1
    @Yoi: No, as Artem said, "whatever-this-is" is a placeholder term. In other words, "The Great Whatever This Is" has the same meaning as "The Great X". The author uses "Whatever This Is" (or may use "X") because it's not clear to anyone what the "X" should be: Depression, Recession, or Some Other Term. Feb 11, 2011 at 7:55
  • 1
    And this all arises from the fact that there is widespread agreement to the definition of a recession (negative GDP for two consecutive quarters) and substantially less for a depression (a recession that lasts...a long time). In my experience, a recession is when your neighbor loses his job. A depression is when YOU lose YOUR job :). Feb 11, 2011 at 22:20
  • 2
    A depression is when you lose your job: an economic crisis is when your wife loses hers. May 8, 2011 at 21:36

Both of those phrases refer to the current economic situation: "The Great Whatever This Is" is a play on "The Great Depression" — popular sentiment seems to frown on calling the current downturn a depression, while recession doesn't seem strong enough — and "It Can't Double Dip If It Never Comes Back Up" comes from the concept of a double-dip recession (which is itself a play on "double-dipping", i.e. dunking your partially-eaten chip back in the dip).

  • You also asked “Why do you need to place ‘up’ after ‘never come back’?”. This is because the thing the economy might never do is to come back up. (Martha — hope you don’t mind my piggybacking on your excellent answer; I don’t want to make my own since you and others have answered most of the question fine already.)
    – PLL
    Feb 11, 2011 at 1:28

"The Great Whatever This Is" is a reference to the Great Depression. The economy isn't in a depression, but it is undergoing significant changes. These changes are "great" in some sense, but the author doesn't know exactly what to call them. "Double dip" is an ill-defined term referring to a double drop in the economy.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.