"Meteoric rise"

Thursday 18 August 2005

I used the term "meteoric rise" the other day to describe someone rapidly climbing through the ranks, achieving greater and greater status as they went. It's a common phrase used to refer to unusually fast success. But unless I'm mistaken, meteors don't rise at all. They only fall rapidly through the atmosphere, and their light is due to their incineration on descent, which usually results in their complete destruction.

As a metaphor for success, a meteor sucks. Where did this phrase come from anyway? Of course, I am not the first to notice the conceptual dissonance. Some have even used it to poetic ends.


Pete Lyons 8:00 AM on 18 Aug 2005

Interesting observation. I think it just boils down to the word meteoric being a standalone adjective: resembling a meteor in speed or in sudden and temporary brilliance, and as such can be used to modify any phrase whether oxymoronic or not.

Jim 9:15 AM on 18 Aug 2005

The word meteor, comes from meta+aeoros: to lift up. "Meteoros" means "high in the sky" and is where we get the term meteorology for the study of the atmosphere.

Ned Batchelder 11:01 AM on 18 Aug 2005

Aha! So the phrase maybe is not based on meteors, but a common root. That makes more sense!

mikey 12:09 PM on 18 Aug 2005

The adjective still doesn't seem to fit.

METEORIC - the adjective form pertaining to meteor or meteoroid.

Meteors rise, but only like the sun, up from the horizon.

Jonas 7:55 AM on 22 Aug 2005

In this case, what Jim says makes sense. But there is also a whole class of words which have their meanings shifted from the original, often sarcastic sense, into the complete opposite. The linguists even have a word for it (which I don't know, I just heard it on a radio show). English is not my primary language so I have no other examples right off my head. But for example in Sweden we say things similar to the expression "clear as mud", but where the original meaning was clearly sarcastic, it is nowadays used to mean "very clear". We also say things like "shit-tasty" when something tastes good, whereas shit probably doesn't. This may be another example of the same phenomenon, I don't know.

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