A musical interlude

Over at the Columbia Journalism Review's Language Corner, Merrill Perlman writes about misuse of the word crescendo -- which "is a gradual increase in the loudness or force of the music" -- to mean climax:

“Crescendo” is the gerund form of the Italian verb crescere, meaning to grow or increase. The “crescendo” is not the top; it’s the trail to the top. (For those wondering what a gerund is, it’s a verb masquerading as a noun.)


As is true of so many other casual evolutions in English, the use of “crescendo” to mean “peak” is an American invention. The Oxford English Dictionary notes its first use in The Great Gatsby: “The caterwauling horns had reached a crescendo and I turned away and cut across the lawn toward home.”