1. The point on the earth's surface directly above the focus of an earthquake.
2. The focal point of a usually harmful or unpleasant phenomenon or event; the center: stood at the epicenter of the international crisis.
Usage Note: Epicenter is properly a geological term identifying the point of the earth's surface directly above the focus of an earthquake. No doubt this is why the Usage Panel approves of figurative extensions of its use in dangerous, destructive, or negative contexts. In our 2008 survey, 74 percent accepted the sentence identifying a country as the epicenter for terrorist financing. The Panel is less fond but still accepting of epicenter when it is used to refer to the focal point of neutral or positive events. Fifty percent approved of the word in a sentence identifying New York City as the epicenter of European immigration. These percentages are both down a little from those in our 1996 survey, but not significantly.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2020 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.