Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

[ fawr-hawrs-muhn uhvtheeuh-pok-uh-lips ]
/ ˈfɔr ˈhɔrs mən ʌv ði əˈpɒk ə lɪps /

noun

four riders on white, red, black, and pale horses symbolizing pestilence, war, famine, and death, respectively. Revelation 6:2–8.

QUIZZES

FOR LEXICAL ALIMENTATION, TAKE THIS WORD OF THE DAY QUIZ!

Nourish your vocabulary with a refresher on the words from the week of September 14–20, 2020!
Question 1 of 7
What does “blatherskite” mean?
Also called Four Horse·men.

Words nearby Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2020

HOMEWORK HELP

What are the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse?

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, or Four Horsemen for short, originate as a Biblical personification of the end of the world. The Four Horsemen have become symbols of things that bring about some catastrophe, often used in a rhetorical or humorous way.

How is Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse pronounced?

[ fawr hawrs-muhn uhv thuh uhpokuh-lips ]

Where do the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse come from?

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse appear in the Book of Revelation, the last book of the New Testament of the Bible that presents an allegorical battle between good and evil. They appear in Revelations 6:2-8, when the first four of the seven seals on the holy scroll are broken. (Revelations, yes, goes heavy on the symbolism.)

Apocalypse, literally from the Greek for “revealing,” is another name for the book of Revelation, so named because the book reveals a vision (prophecy) of the future which involves the destruction of the world. By association, apocalypse was extended to mean “any universal or widespread destruction or disaster.”

The Four Horsemen are named as riders with different powers to plague mankind. Conquer rides a white horse, War a red one. Famine’s horse is black and Death rides a pale green horse. Conquer, perhaps because of the similarity of this name to War, is generally replaced with Pestilence, which is also mentioned in the passages from Revelations.  

The specific symbolism of the Four Horsemen have been widely analyzed in theology and literature. They have also been long and widely depicted in art. The Four Horsemen have become adopted more broadly in culture, as both a phrase and characters that represent the ushering of end times.

Treatment of the Four Horsemen is often humorous or irreverent. Adapted in a 2019 TV series on Amazon, Good Omens is a 1990 book by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman that satirizes the apocalypse. In this story, the Four Horsemen ride motorcycles. Pestilence has been replaced by Pollution. And since War is female, we might also more accurately refer to the quartet as The Four Horsepersons of the Apocalypse.

How are the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse used in real life?

The Four Horsemen remain discussed in literary and religious contexts, including imagery.

More broadly, the Four Horsemen are refashioned in many ways as symbols of catastrophe. To do this, people find some new, natural set of four, like politicians one disagrees with or or something that is considered suspicious, unlikeable, or “evil” in some way.

 

In popular culture, references to the Four Horsemen are often humorous. The humor often comes from how what is labelled as the Four Horsemen or the Apocalypse is actually very low stakes.

You don’t always have to specify what the Four Horsemen are horsemen of. Sometimes just using the phrase Four Horsemen on its own is enough to get across some connected set of four. 

Note that The Four Horsemen also refers in sports to four members of the Notre Dame football team back in the 1920s. It’s also a type of cocktail. LeBron James even has a sneaker called Four Horsemen, a reference to himself and three friends from Ohio who went into business together.

More examples of  the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse:

“The Four Horsemen of A Really Nice Time That I Enjoy Very Much Thank U”
—@RedMinus, September 24, 2019

“I’ve seen the return of what I’ve called the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse … Populism, … nativism, … isolationism and protectionism.”
—Condoleezza Rice quoted by John Bowden, The Hill, September 10, 2019

Note

This content is not meant to be a formal definition of this term. Rather, it is an informal summary that seeks to provide supplemental information and context important to know or keep in mind about the term’s history, meaning, and usage.