Herman Cain’s Meteoritic Campaign

The Daily Beast’s main page is trumpeting their coverage of Herman Cain’s “Meteoric rise and sudden fall”. We discussed the strange (though old) phrase “meteoric rise” here some time ago, which generated this priceless comment

Kent Fisher says:
July 28, 2011 at 12:36 pm

Pedant alert!

Meteors neither rise nor fall. They’re not rocks, they’re flashes of light in the sky that trace the passage of the rock as it passes through the atmosphere. If the rock hits the ground, it’s a meteorite.

Some rocks that eventually become meteorites here on Earth do indeed rise: they’re launched into space from the surface of the Moon or Mars by impacts.

“Meteoric” is apt for describing a brief, intense flash. Meteoritic” would mean something that fell to the ground.

I don’t think Noah Webster would approve, but I have been wanting to use this neologism ever since, and here is my chance: Herman Cain’s Meteoritic Campaign is now over.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College London. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over thirteen thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

14 thoughts on “Herman Cain’s Meteoritic Campaign”

  1. Darn I was hoping he would get the nomination. But there are so many clowns climbing out of that little GOP car this year. Oh look, here comes Newty with his funny haircut.

    Then I think of what Reverend Al said a couple nights ago: The last time he laughed at the GOP candidate it was GW Bush in 2000 and look how that turned out.

  2. Herman Cain’s Meteoritic Campaign is now over.

    Maybe the campaign itself.
    But I’m not sure all the fat ladies have sung…

  3. I think meteors rise like the moon or sun ‘rises’ – their light as seen from the Earth rises over the eastern horizon at night.

  4. Bah! Meteoric is a metaphor, but not necessarily an exact copy. Meteors shine for a brief period of time before flashing out. Thus a meteoric rise is a rise that, like a meteor, is fleeting. Evanescent if you will. I didn’t think being a pedant meant having no imagination or insight into language, but I guess I learn new things about small minds all the time.

    1. I could define “facetious” for ya if ya want, but I’m not sure my small mind is up to the task. xD

    2. I learn new things about small minds all the time…

      The pursuit of self-knowledge is a noble thing

  5. Herman Cain was the point on the wall. Republicans were cats. I don’t know who was shining the laser pointer, but whoever he is, he’s dead now.

    Meteoric and meteoritic were both wrong. Cain was never more than a cat’s plaything, distracting a the moment and just as easily forgotten.

  6. My goodness, the linguistic misinformation that’s spread on this site. I don’t think there’s been an accurate post on language yet.

    The OED defines meteor in def. 2 (after def. 1, obsolete – any atmosperic phenomenon), as: “”A luminous body seen temporarily in the sky … a fireball or shooting star. In its modern restricted use, the term may be scientifically defined to mean: A small mass of matter from celestial space, rendered luminous by the heat engendered by collision with the earth’s atmosphere.”

    Webster’s New World Dictionary Second College Edition has two definitions: 1. the flash and streak of light, the ionized trail, etc. occurring when a meteroid is heated by its entry into earth’s atmosphere … 2. loosely, a meteoroid or meteorite.

    So no, it’s not incorrect to refer to the object itself as a meteor.

    Does a meteor rise and fall? Not literally, no. All meteors fall. The ones that don’t entirely vaporize while falling hit the each and become meteorites. But they don’t rise in any obvious meaning of the term.

    But the word we’re interested in is not meteor. It’s meteoric, used as a metaphor. My version of Websters defines it as “momentarily dazzling or brilliant, flashing, or swift.” The OED says “transiently or irregularly brilliant, flashing or dazzling like a meteor; also, rapid or swift.”

    And in fact “meteoric rise and fall” is something of a cliche. Google Books reveals that among the tens of thousands of authors who have used it are Harold Bloom, Sean Wilenz, and Diane Ravitch.

    1. I hardly think anyone who’s complaining that it’s a bad metaphor is unaware that a metaphor need not be perfect. They just particularly don’t like this one.

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