Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Word usage I don't get, "Meteoric Rise"

Meteors don't rise.  They fall.  It's what the word means.  In space it's a meteoroid.  On earth it's a meteorite.  Only during the brief time when it is falling to earth, lit up for all to see as the force of atmospheric drag (not air friction which does have an effect but not nearly as large of one) heats it and burns away at it, sometimes until there is nothing left, is it a meteor.

A meteor is falling, possibly to oblivion, and doing so in spectacular fashion.

Once something makes the transition from meteoroid to meteor its downfall isn't merely inevitable, it is ongoing.

It is also temporary.  The absolute longest a meteor can last is from when it hits the atmosphere to when it smashes into earth.  (As noted, many don't last long enough to hit rock bottom.)

Today the word a day from wordsmith was "meteoric" and this marks the first time I've actually taken a moment to look at the definition:



1. Relating to a meteor or a meteorite.
2. Resembling a meteor in speed, brilliance, suddenness, or transience.
3. Coming from the atmosphere (used to describe water); meteorological.

From Old French meteore, from Latin meteorum, from Greek meteoron (raised in the air), from meta- (among) + aeirein (to raise). Ultimately from the Indo-European root wer- (to raise), which also gave us air, aura, aorta, artery, and arterious. Earliest documented use: 1612. 
Note the second one.  That's what people are talking about with "meteoric rise" note "transience".

Unless the tragedy of [insert name here] has already played out and their rise has been followed by their downfall, how can we know the transience?  Isn't it a bit early to talk about someone's meteoric rise when we don't yet know if they'll burn out/hit rock bottom?  Maybe, just maybe, they won't come to ruin and rumors of their meteorlikeness will turn out to be premature and exaggerated.

Then again, maybe reporters and headline writers just have a depressing view of the world and believe that every rise must ultimately end in a swift burning fall that leads to either oblivion or rock bottom.

Or, maybe assholes who can't tell up from down and destruction from ascension have managed to fuck up the language to the point that this word will never make anything resembling sense again.

There's no actual proof, but I feel like one of those options is more likely.


  1. I kind of figured it was relating to a meteor's "speed" as per definition 2, not "transience". Or maybe "brilliance".

    1. I do, in fact, realize that. Sometimes I leave things out of the post because they aren't pertinent to the rant I'm making.

      The big thing is that a meteor's speed is always and invariably downward. As such, the whole post is really summed up in the first two sentences. They don't rise; all they ever do is fall.


      Thanks for commenting, by the way. I appreciate comments so much, and yours was, you know, completely on point and contributing so it's even better.

      I'm not sure if this is your first comment (in which case: Hello, welcome here), or my bad memory is making me forget earlier ones, but either way, thanks for speaking up this time.

  2. Speed, of course, has no direction, but velocity always does have one.

    I read a book recently which included the paragraph:

    "That's what the jollies tell us." Rita spat the epitaph for political officers.

    The writer had clearly heard, but not remembered, the word "epithet", and presumably was confident enough that he felt no need to look it up. And the editor didn't catch it.

  3. ...come to think of it, every instance of "meteoric rise" I remember seems to have had an implied transience to it.

    1. I think this is it. When people talk about a politician's "meteoric rise", what I've always felt they're really implying is that they're flashing briefly across the political world and will soon disappear.