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Does the term ground zero always connote destruction or other negative things?

If a city is described as ground zero for the insurance industry, does it imply insurance is no longer thriving in that city?

If a book series is called Ground Zero, what image comes into your mind?

I'd appreciate your responses.

  • etymonline says "1946, originally with reference to atomic blasts. In reference to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on New York, it was in use by Sept. 13." So, yeah, it's a reference to desctruction. – oerkelens Jun 14 '16 at 12:19
  • The first attestation of ground zero was in reference to the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and more recently has been associated with Sept 11th, 2001. So to this particular native speaker, at least, it always carries negative connotations. Like patient zero, but unlike (or less like) square one, for example. But +1 for the question. I'm interested in others' responses. – Dan Bron Jun 14 '16 at 12:22
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    The term is used metaphorically in many different contexts. The implication of destruction (vs simply a point of origin of a spreading phenomenon) is not always present. One would need to examine the wider context to know what was intended. – Hot Licks Jun 14 '16 at 12:27
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It doesn't necessarily imply destruction or anything negative. Its original meaning is the point on the earth below the nuclear explosion, but it can also be used with reference to an "explosion" of activity such as commerce, industry etc.

Ground zero

: the point on the earth's surface directly above, below, or at which an explosion (especially a nuclear explosion) occurs

: the central point in an area of fast change or intense activity

: the beginning state or starting point

[Merriam-Webster]

So, describing a city as "ground zero for the insurance industry" could mean that a lot of insurance companies started there, or are based there now - like describing Broadway as the "ground zero of American theatre".

Conversely, it could mean that's where some sort of metaphorical bomb went off in the insurance industry, forcing lots of companies out of business due to a flood of unexpected claims.

The question about the book series is too opinion-based to have any worth, but FWIW I'd imagine it was some kind of thriller set around a potential nuclear explosion in a major city, OR a non-fiction book about the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center.

  • if that is a textbook series, what would you think it should be? – Apollyon Jun 14 '16 at 12:48
  • I'd agree that ground zero is properly used in the sense of the initial point of propagation of something. The phrase's appropriation in the context of 9/11 was a valid but unfortunate one, since that event has become so ingrained in the world's consciousness as the mother of all terrorist acts that the original meaning of the phrase is in danger of becoming lost in favour of association exclusively with disaster. We should be able to say, for example, that East Africa was the evolutionary Ground Zero of humankind, for example, without (necessarily!) implying that humankind is disastrous. – Charl E Jun 14 '16 at 13:08
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    @Apollyon I don't know, and I actually think that's a completely pointless question. – Max Williams Jun 14 '16 at 13:35
  • As a former nuclear weapon systems engineer, all those other uses sound like tabloid headlines to me. This is what the USAF style guide has to say - Ground Zero – refers to the site of the World Trade Center as opposed to “ground zero” which is where an ICBM lands. Of course, they are only providing advice on how the term relates to things of interest to the Air Force. – Phil Sweet Jun 14 '16 at 15:58
  • @PhilSweet I'd trust the USAF's style guide when it comes to explosions. That's interesting about the pronoun version being reserved for 9/11. – Max Williams Jun 15 '16 at 7:43

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