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What is “Wall Street meltdown”?

The word “meltdown” is being bandied about a lot in relation to the current Wall Street crisis. What does it mean?

Let’s look at melt first. Melt is a verb: to melt. It means to change from solid to liquid, usually because of heat. So if you put an ice-cube outside in the sun it will melt. The ice will become water. When you light a candle, the solid wax of the candle melts and becomes liquid wax, running down the candle until it cools and solidifies again.

What about meltdown? Meltdown is a noun, with a technical meaning. A meltdown is an accident in a nuclear reactor in which the fuel becomes so hot that the core of the nuclear reactor melts, with potentially extremely serious (catastrophic) consequences.

What about a meltdown in Wall Street? There are no nuclear reactors in Wall Street, so what can it mean?

Wall Street is a street at the south end of Manhattan in New York City, and is home to the New York Stock Exchange and other leading United States financial institutions (major banks etc). When people talk about a “meltdown in Wall Street” they are using the word meltdown figuratively to mean “a catastrophic event, a disastrous collapse of the American financial system”.

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