Trend Watch

Red Cross: 'Spartan' Conditions in Shelters

Lookups rise 3100% after press conference

Lookups for Spartan spiked on September 13th, 2018, when preparations for Hurricane Florence were the subject of a FEMA press conference at which a Red Cross official used the word in a statement:

If the public has not experienced staying in a shelter, in the past: you’ll be safe, but conditions are spartan, so we’d ask you to bring your toothbrush, your pillow, and other comfort items with you, and we’ll keep you safe until the storm passes.

Spartan used in this way as an adjective means “marked by simplicity, frugality, or avoidance of luxury and comfort.” It comes from Sparta, the name of the ancient Greek city-state that had a strict militaristic tradition and a reputation for a severe and highly disciplined way of life for its citizens.

Spartan, the noun, originally simply meant “a native or inhabitant of ancient Sparta,” but came to have the figurative meaning of “a person of great courage and discipline.” This led to the adjectival use meaning “marked by strict self-discipline or self-denial” and, by extension, the “simple and frugal” sense used here, which is often used today when referring to accommodations, a meaning that goes back to at least the 19th century:

Considerable reductions have been made in the number of camp-followers and in the quantity of commissariat stores, and the missions marches almost on the Spartan conditions of the Cabul campaign, luxuries having been abandoned, and little left to hope for but the daily ration.
The Times of India (Mumbai, Ind.), 27 Sept. 1884

Today, Spartan is often not capitalized when used as an adjective in this way.

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