Don't Use The Word "OPTICS" Metaphorically, Please


I'm on a quest to NOT be a grumpy old man. Writing a lame blog post about language on New Years Eve is my zen-like way of attaining this. I think.

If You're Being Metaphorical, Don't Use Highly Specific Words To Sound Smart, Please

Please don't use the word "OPTICS" metaphorically. For instance:

Carol: ``I understand the need for us to delay the shipment, but I'm concerned about the optics surrounding it.''

Please don't do this.

What Carol means to say is, "I'm worried about how it looks." She means this metaphorically. She doesn't mean, "what will someone physically see if the shipment is late", she means "what will they see in their mind's eye."

Optics is a word that is much more specific than "look" or "appear" or any other number of words you might use in this metaphorical sense. It really relates very specifically to the way light is transmitted, focused, reflected, and so on.

To replace "look" or "appear" with a cleverer-sounding word but one which is less metaphorical is not clever, and hence it is grating.

If Carol says, "I'm worried about how things will look" that is already a metaphor. To use the word "optics" is less metaphorical.

Suggestion If You Want To Sound Clever

Which is not to say there's anything wrong with sounding clever. So here's my suggestion: use the word "ostensibles."

Carol: "I understand the need to delay the shipment, but the ostensibles are what conern me most."

This is really pro-level manager-speak.

Related: MYOPIC

There is a related term. People say metaphorically "that is short-sighted." What they are doing is making a metaphor for time-- distance. You are implying someone is not looking far enough into the future, in the same way as a person who cannot see very far away from them in distance is "short sighted" or suffers from "myopia."

To say "myopic" instead of "short-sighted" in this case is to make the same blunder as with "optics", above. I think it's not as bad, because we only have two words for this idea, so perhaps for variety it might be a reasonable compromise. But at least realize it still has the same problem.

It's interesting to me that these two things both have to do with light and vision, but not interesting enough for me to think about.

Happy New Years!

I was originally not going to write this tonight (NYE) because I was concerned about the optics. But that's a bit myopic of me, the most important thing is to get this off my chest and not worry if you think I'm a grumpy loner.

** BANG **

Happy New Years :-) I mean it!

2012-12-31


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