July 4th, Bastille Day, and the language of revolution.

by Liz Walter​
With the USA’s Independence Day on the 4th and France’s Bastille Day on the 14th, July certainly has a revolutionary theme, so this blog looks at words and phrases we use to talk about the dramatic and nation-changing events that these days celebrate. In particular, it focuses on one of the most important skills for advanced learners of English, which is collocation, or the way words go together.

July 4, 1776 was the day on which Americans declared independence from Great Britain. When a country becomes independent, it gains independence, and if a ruling country allows another one to become independent, it grants independence to it.

Bastille Day marks the beginning of the French Revolution. On July 14, 1789 a group of rioters attacked the Bastille fortress in order to seize weapons and explosives. We refer to this event as the Storming of the Bastille, and it is still common to talk about troops or gunmen storming a building when it is a fast, violent attack.

Revolutions happen when a group of people want to overthrow a government or the monarchy.  They usually occur after a period of unrest, and when people become more and more angry, we say that tensions escalate. Often, something happens to trigger or spark riots. We talk about people inciting riots or inciting violence if they deliberately try to cause them. We say that riots (and wars) break out, and if we want to emphasize how sudden and violent they are, we often use the verb erupt.

In addition to revolution, words such as rebellion, revolt and uprising describe violent actions by a group of people trying to change a political system. The verbs quell, put down, or crush are often used to talk about defeating them.

At the end of such a struggle, the winning side claims victory. We also say it inflicts defeat on the other side. Meanwhile, fighters on the losing side suffer defeat, and if they reach a point where they have to admit they have lost, they concede defeat.  If one side has been very badly beaten, we talk about a heavy or crushing defeat or a decisive or resounding victory.

And what about the results of revolution? Well, the Americans gained independence, and the French abolished the monarchy. Both events led to huge social and political upheaval, and both demonstrated the power of the will of the people. There have of course been many revolutions and attempted revolutions since then, some successful and some disastrous, but these two are both celebrated with national holidays and help to make July special!

7 thoughts on “July 4th, Bastille Day, and the language of revolution.

  1. Moisés Hernández

    Interesting post. Definitely, July is a revolutionary month. In my country, Venezuela, we celebrated the Independence Day, too, but on July 5th. On this day we remember when in 1811 our colonized land signed the independence from Spain. However, it was not a fact until 1823 with a great battle in Lago de Maracaibo, when we defeated Spaniards and obtained a decisive victory.

  2. Victoria

    Why do you say America’s Independence Day? America is a continent, not a country. America is not just the United States.

  3. Andrea M

    On July 9th Argentina celebrates its Independence Day. After the May Revolution, which started in 1810, our independence was finally granted in 1816.

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