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Why the coronavirus crisis is a ‘gray rhino’ and not a ‘black swan’

10 Mar 2020

Linguists say that the proper metaphor for the crisis is a “gray rhino,” which refers to highly probable but neglected threats that have an enormous impact.

Are you using the wrong animal metaphor to describe the coronavirus crisis? In recent weeks, headlines about COVID-19 have been full of so-called experts describing the pandemic as a “black swan,” a metaphor for an extremely rare event that is unforeseen and has an enormous impact. It was coined by economist Nassim Nicholas Taleb in 2001—inspired by a 2nd-century Roman poet who presumed that such birds didn’t exist—and has been applied to such disparate outliers as the 9/11 attacks and the development of the internet.


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