Tuesday, October 31, 2023

The ‘Perfect Storm’ metaphor and lame excuses

Google Books Ngram Viewer cites 'Perfect Storm' in the early 1700s and the Oxford English Dictionary has published a reference from 1718: 'and a perfect storm of applause.'

The references peaked in the 1860s and in modern times from the late 1990s. There was an all-time peak in 2018.

Vanity Fair, an 1847 novel by William Makepeace Thackeray, has a scene in Naples where "the hat went round, and the bajocchi (a coin, originally copper, later silver, issued by the Papal States from the 15th century to 1865) tumbled into it, in the midst of a perfect storm of sympathy."

The first known use of the expression in the meteorological sense is on May 30, 1850, when the Rev. Lloyd of Withington (Manchester, England) describes a perfect storm of thunder and lightning all over England (except London) doing fearful and fatal damage.″

The UK Met Office was founded in 1854 and the Irish Meteorological Service was established in 1936.

From Google Books 1720 to 2019 'Perfect Storm'

In the 1997 book 'The Perfect Storm,' Sebastian Junger, a journalist and filmmaker, chronicles the havoc caused by a monster gale off the coast of New England in 1991. He said per capita, more people are killed working on fishing boats than in any other job in the United States.

Six fishermen aboard the 'F/V Andrea Gail' were lost at sea.

'The Perfect Storm' movie was issued in 2000, starring George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, and Diane Lane. It was directed by Wolfgang Petersen.

The centre of the Perfect Storm of 1991 never reached the coast.

"Bottom line: the 'Perfect' storm was strong, but there were plenty of stronger events on record," said meteorology professor Clifford Mass of the University of Washington in Seattle.

While National Weather Service (NWS) meteorologist Bob Case called the storm a 'Perfect Storm' Sebastian Junger, the author, got a perfect title.

Today beyond weather events, a 'Perfect Storm' is an unusual combination of events or things that produce an unusually bad or powerful result. The common English idiom is used as a metaphor to describe a worst-case scenario.

Merriam-Webster says "'Perfect' implies the soundness and the excellence of every part, element, or quality of a thing, frequently as an unattainable or theoretical state. The meaning of 'Perfect Storm' is a critical or disastrous situation created by a powerful concurrence of factors."

Clichés and stereotypes

According to Google in its News category in the past 10 years, 'Perfect Storm' has been used 24,500mn (24,500,000.)

Google's count in the News category in the last week of October 2023 was 84,700.

Some samples from 2023: A 'perfect storm' is unfolding this summer and it's ' ... (CNN); Labour says the government has created 'perfect storm' in England's teaching workforce(Guardian); Perfect storm: How climate change is making natural hazards ... (FT); Weathering a 'perfect storm' of cascading crises (UNCTAD); The science behind the perfect storm (Economist); 'Perfect storm' prompts dramatic rise in insolvencies (Irish Times); Frontline gardaí fear 'perfect storm' over staffing crisis (Irish Examiner); 'Perfect storm' as no end to rising property prices (Irish Independent); Fishing sector faces 'perfect storm' of falling prices and ... (Irish Independent); Single-parent families in 'perfect storm' financially (Irish Examiner); The coming perfect storm: Diminishing sustainability of ...(Cambridge University); A perfect storm for European construction? (Euroconstruct lobby group); Is there a perfect storm brewing in the offshore wind industry? (Recharge, Dagens Næringsliv [DN] Norway)

“All that glitters is not gold.” If you’ve heard an expression like this a thousand times, it is probably a cliché. A cliché is a phrase or idea that has been used to the extent that it has lost its original meaning —and its allure.

20 Common Clichés to avoid from MasterClass

1. “The wrong side of the bed.”
2. “Think outside the box.”
3. “Loose canon.”
4. “A perfect storm.”
5. “Can of worms.”
6. “What goes around comes around.”
7. “Dead as a doornail.”
8. “Plenty of fish in the sea.”
9. “Ignorance is bliss.”
10. “Like a kid in a candy store.”
11. “You can’t judge a book by its cover.”
12. “Take the tiger by the tail.”
13. “Every rose has its thorn.”
14. “Good things come to those who wait.”
15. “In the nick of time.”
16. “If only walls could talk.”
17. “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”
18. “The pot calling the kettle black.”
19. “The grass is always greener on the other side.”
20. “Beating a dead horse.”

Cliché means stéréotype in French. Their original meanings are synonymous, referring to printing blocks from which numerous prints could be made.

Firmin Didot (1764–1836) developed a group of typefaces named Didot after his famous printing family in Paris. The stéréotype was invented by Firmin Didot which in printing refers to the metal printing plate created for the actual printing of pages (as opposed to printing pages directly with movable type), and the process was to produce cheap editions of books.

It's said that the casting process apparently made a noise that sounded like “clicher,” and printers called the plates that were produced clichés.

Cliché in English today refers to something hackneyed, such as an overly familiar or commonplace phrase, theme, or expression. A stereotype is most frequently employed to refer to an often unfair and untrue belief that many people have about all people or things with a particular characteristic.

Earlier this year, Kaitlyn Tiffany, a writer at The Atlantic, a venerable magazine founded in Boston in 1857, said that the editor-in-chief of The Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg, sent an email to the newsroom about clichés.

Tiffany said, "ChatGPT, the popular bot released to the public by OpenAI late last year, is obsessed with clichés and uses them all the time."

ChatGPT, which stands for Chat Generative Pre-trained Transformer, is a large language model-based chatbot developed by OpenAI.

The bot responded to me, "I apologize if I've used clichés in my responses. Clichés are common phrases or expressions that can sometimes be overused and lack originality. I'll do my best to provide more creative and unique responses in the future."

Lame excuses

Elisabeth Paté-Cornell, professor of engineering at Stanford University, wrote in 2012:
"Two images, 'Black Swans' and 'Perfect Storms,' have struck the public's imagination and are used — at times indiscriminately — to describe the unthinkable or the extremely unlikely.

These metaphors have been used as excuses to wait for an accident to happen before taking risk management measures, both in industry and government.

These two images represent two distinct types of uncertainties (epistemic and aleatory). Existing statistics are often insufficient to support risk management because the sample may be too small and the system may have changed. Rationality as defined by the von Neumann axioms leads to a combination of both types of uncertainties into a single probability measure — Bayesian probability — and accounts only for risk aversion.

Yet, the decisionmaker may also want to be ambiguity-averse. This article presents an engineering risk analysis perspective on the problem, using all available information in support of proactive risk management decisions and considering both types of uncertainty. These measures involve monitoring of signals, precursors, and near-misses, as well as reinforcement of the system and a thoughtful response strategy. It also involves careful examination of organizational factors such as the incentive system, which shape human performance and affect the risk of errors. In all cases, including rare events, risk quantification does not allow 'prediction' of accidents and catastrophes. Instead, it is meant to support effective risk management rather than simply reacting to the latest events and headlines."

Kenneth Galbraith (1908-2006), who had been a professor of economics at Harvard University for over half a century, wrote in 'The Affluent Society' (1958):
"Ideas come to be organized around what the community as a whole or particular audiences find acceptable. And as the laboratory worker devotes himself to discovering scientific verities, so the ghost writer and the public relations man concern themselves with identifying the acceptable. If their clients are rewarded with applause, these artisans are qualified in their craft. If not they have failed. However, by sampling audience reaction in advance, or by pretesting speeches, articles, and other communications, the risk of failure can now be greatly minimized. [ ] Familiarity may breed contempt in some areas of human behaviour, but in the field of social ideas it is the touchstone of acceptability. Because familiarity is such an important test of acceptability, the acceptable ideas have great stability. They are highly predictable. It will be convenient to have a name for the ideas which are esteemed at any time for their acceptability, and it should be a term that emphasized this predictability. I shall refer to those ideas henceforth as the conventional wisdom."

The Blame Game and its Irish connections

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