It’s been a busy week for meteors. We had an asteroid which “barely” missed crashing into Earth, and then this unbelievable, 10,000 ton meteor/asteroid explodes over Siberia. It created a stir all over the world as it was captured on camera at its moment of impact. Unfortunately, there was a lot of damage to a community nearby and numerous people were hurt by flying debris. But the sight and sound of it captured the imagination of millions around the globe.
Meteors are moving streams of flame or light which streak across the sky. They can be any number of objects which burst into flame because of the speed they are travelling and the friction caused by their rubbing up against the atmosphere at that speed.
Their recent activity has been a gold-mine for the fringe groups who believe the Earth is in its last days and that retribution is coming to earthlings for our sinful ways. I’m not packing a bag.
But it isn’t the scientific event of meteor-sightings that catches my attention today. It is a metophorical comment that I heard about a potential candidate’s meteoric rise in the public’s eye. I’ve heard that phrase dozens, maybe hundreds, of times before, but I guess it was the connection with the meteor-sightings that made me stop and pay attention.
Since when do meteors rise? Meteors fall.
At first I was ready to dismiss the comment as just another one of those funny things people say, but then I began to look up information about meteors. It became clearer and clearer to me that this is a really strange metaphor. I was feeling a little picky until I came across this comment in Bryan Garner’s book:
“Meteoric Rise. This phrase is another example of how idiom trumps logic. Meteors always fall toward the earth. They never actually rise, and even their apparent path is as likely to be falling toward the horizon as rising away from it. Still the idiom meteoric rise is about 30 times as common in print as meteoric fall. In fact, it’s so much more common that meteoric standing alone is now understood to signify quick success….”
So it’s not just meteoric rise that has crept into our language as a strange idiom; meteoric, all by itself, has also become a term with the same meaning.
Prior to his bottle of water fumble in the Republican response to the President’s State of the Union address, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida was said to be in a meteoric rise to the public’s attention. I suspect that meteor will continue to “rise” after the fun and games of the media and Democratic jesting die down. His popularity has been soaring among Republicans looking for youth, Hispanic connection, and a Florida bump in the next presidential election.
And, of course, there is former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whose meteor has been soaring for several years now, with no sign of it burning out. If she isn’t the next Democratic candidate for President it will only be because she chooses not to run, and I don’t get the feeling that it is a likely scenario.
So, whether meteors drop or rise depends upon whether you are paying attention to science or idiom, as Garner says. It is strange what we do with words.
Photo Credit: Telegraph.co.UK