The term “vicious circle” was invented by logicians to describe a form of fallacious circular argument in which each term of the argument draws on the other: “Democracy is the best form of government because democratic elections produce the best governments.” The phrase has been extended in popular usage to all kinds of self-exacerbating processes such as this: poor people often find themselves borrowing money to pay off their debts, but in the process create even more onerous debts which in their turn will need to be financed by further borrowing. Sensing vaguely that such destructive spirals are not closed loops, people have transmuted “vicious circle” into “vicious cycle.” The problem with this perfectly logical change is that a lot of people know what the original “correct” phrase was and are likely to scorn users of the new one. They go beyond scorn to contempt however toward those poor souls who render the phrase as “viscous cycle.” Don’t use this expression unless you are discussing a Harley-Davidson in dire need of an oil change.

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