It’s Not What the Great Moustache of Understanding Says, but How He Says It

Look into my eyes. You are getting stupid, very, very stupid…
(Josh Haner/The New York Times)

Usually, I ignore Thomas Friedman’s NY Times columns, but I accidentally read his most recent one, and stumbled across this (boldface mine):

Davidson’s article is one of a number of pieces that have recently appeared making the point that the reason we have such stubbornly high unemployment and sagging middle-class incomes today is largely because of the big drop in demand because of the Great Recession, but it is also because of the quantum advances in both globalization and the information technology revolution, which are more rapidly than ever replacing labor with machines or foreign workers.

Let’s ignore his vapid, trite take on wages and manufacturing–that’s par for the course. But the man, unlike the Mad Biologist, is a professional scrivener. He’s supposed to know what words mean.

Quantum advances? Quantum does not mean “really, really large.” Or ginormous. Or humungous. Or rapid. A quantum is simply a discrete unit of measurement. In physics, it is the smallest amount of a physical quantity that can exist independently. So at best, “quantum” has nothing to do with what he’s talking about, and, at worst, it means the exact opposite of what he is trying to claim.

Although, I guess if you get paid by the word, maybe you just have to toss some cool-sounding random ones in there to make the count? Or maybe he’s channeling his Inner Everett Dirksen: a quantum here, a quantum there, pretty soon, you’re talking about a real advance?

Better pundits, please.

(And how about somebody outsource Friedman’s ass too while we’re on the topic)

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2 Responses to It’s Not What the Great Moustache of Understanding Says, but How He Says It

  1. Martin says:

    In pundit-speak, “quantum” means “stick another zero at the end”.

  2. Min says:

    As a professional writer, perhaps Friedman avoided the term, “quantum leap”, because it is a cliche. What is the prototypical quantum leap? I suppose it is when an electron changes its orbit in the Bohr model of the atom. The change is sudden and discontinuous. In the vernacular, a quantum leap is a sudden and discontinuous change (or near enough to discontinuous). On the scale of ordinary human existence, such a change is fairly large. IMO, Friedman’s use of the vernacular is unexceptionable. (I still don’t like the guy. ;))

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