Can Times Be Economic?

Not really.  But this hasn't stopped many intelligent and well-educated people from using the phrase "economic times" as a substitute for "hard times."  My father first pointed this out several months ago, at which time I thought it was a fairly rare phrase.  Then I started to notice it a lot more often:

Whenever the holidays coincide with lean economic times, visions of handicrafts begin to dance in my head.” (The Wall Street Journal, December 19)

"Even in hard economic times, sport continues to be big business." (The New York Times, December 21)

"School officials have said the fee is a necessary alternative during tough economic times to cutting sports programs." (Chicago Tribune, December 22)

While these sentences are all erroneous, most offensive to me is the phrase "these economic times," which can be found in all three of the above sources -- and in hundreds of other places.  The problem is that "economic" is not a charged word; it simply refers to the sphere of economics.  So, in that sense, all times are economic times.  The proper construction is "economically ____ times," where the blank would reflect either something good (prosperous, optimistic) or bad (difficult, challenging.)

When in doubt, just say what you mean; don't try to make it sound pretty.  Directness is its own eloquence.