## Political physics

Today's SMBC:

The aftercomic:

Mouseover title: "If we start doing this on our own, maybe political commentators will start doing it too, without realizing it's a joke. Who's with me?"

1. ### Y said,

October 8, 2018 @ 1:18 pm

I'd like to see the same with Chomskyan syntax terminology.

2. ### Ethan said,

October 8, 2018 @ 2:41 pm

SMBC may have a case for "momentum", but "energy" had this general meaning for centuries before acquiring a codified use in physics. It's a good thing the nerd depicted here hasn't noticed the [in]appropriation of " quantum leap ".

3. ### BZ said,

October 8, 2018 @ 3:52 pm

I don't know. When I hear "momentum" in political reporting, it's usually a pretty straightforward extension of the physical sense, like a candidate or party having momentum after winning a bunch of local elections. And actually "quantum leap" is pretty appropriate too. After all, even in physics, it might not be large in distance, but is a seemingly impossible discontinuity.

4. ### philip said,

October 8, 2018 @ 6:11 pm

Is 'embiggen' a joke word?

5. ### David L said,

October 8, 2018 @ 7:05 pm

I agree with BZ. The salient (hah!) point about a quantum jump is the discontinuity, not the size. It means getting from one state to another without passing through any of the intermediate states.

The incident when the CERN magnet blew up was arguably a quantum jump, from a macroscopic quantum state to a classical one.

6. ### melboiko said,

October 8, 2018 @ 7:19 pm

@philip Simpsons reference, look it up.

7. ### Bloix said,

October 8, 2018 @ 8:14 pm

The problem isn't that we listeners and readers don't understand the plainly intended meaning. The problem is that the metaphors don't explain anything. They're lazy cliches that substitute for information and analysis.

8. ### KevinM said,

October 8, 2018 @ 8:37 pm

I didn't laugh at this comic at first, but I think I was just having a moment of inertia.

9. ### Martin Coxall said,

October 9, 2018 @ 5:00 am

Quantum is the Latin word for "packet". A quantum leap is not, as many people inaccurately claim, the smallest possible change, for that of itself is a total misreading of state transitions in quantum mechanical systems. The point is that quantum transitions are *discrete*, which is how the term "quantum leap" is normally used.

A systems has undergone a quantum leap when it makes a discrete jump from one state to another, rather than transition gradually from one state to another.

This to me is a perfectly sound metaphor, as a physicist.

When people talk about momentum in politics, they're usually talking about the behaviour of opinion polls. There is an empircal observation that when polls start to to move, they often continue to move for a while. Polls in motion tend to want to stay in motion, unless acted on by another external political event. Hence momentum.

10. ### Martin Coxall said,

October 9, 2018 @ 5:01 am

@philip

'Embiggen' is a perfectly cromulent word.

11. ### Richard Hershberger said,

October 9, 2018 @ 6:11 am

"Momentum" is often used in sports commentary. My objection is not to the metaphor, but to its almost always being bullshit. The idea is that an athlete or team that is currently enjoying success is more likely to continue to succeed simply by virtue of its current success. There are certain limited situations where this plausible, but in the vast majority of cases it is simply sportscaster blather. The best sportscasters are willing to shut up if the situation on the field speaks for itself, or if they have nothing to contribute.

12. ### KeithB said,

October 9, 2018 @ 8:58 am

Then the use of physics terms by medical woo-meisters must really explode his head!

13. ### Joe said,

October 9, 2018 @ 10:20 am

And here's entropy!

14. ### Andrew (not the same one) said,

October 9, 2018 @ 12:23 pm

'Entropy' may actually be a better example of this phenomenon than the others we've had so far. Unlike 'energy', it is a scientific term in origin; unlike 'momentum' or 'quantum leap', its popular use does not really make sense as a metaphorical application of its scientific use. (No reason it has to, of course. Words mean what they are used to mean. But if you are looking for misunderstandings, this is a likely place.)

15. ### seriously said,

October 9, 2018 @ 3:59 pm

@Richard Hershberger–where have you found these "best sportscasters" who are "willing to shut up"? I've been watching the wrong broadcasts, because all of announcers I hear seem to have a deep-seated dread of 'dead air.' I think perhaps Ray Scott back in the late 1950s or early 60s fit your description, but few if any since then. (I now usually watch the the sound muted.)

16. ### Brett said,

October 9, 2018 @ 5:20 pm

@Martin Coxall: Non-physicists incorrectly peeving about supposed misuse of the term "quantum leap" has itself become a pet peeve of mine. That the metaphor is quite sound has been discussed in the Language Log comments before; here, for example: http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=12528

@Andrew (not the same one): I agree with you about entropy. There are a couple of things that lead to it being used as a metaphorical term, I think. First, many people are not aware that it was coined as a scientific term with a specific definition (unlike energy or power, which were older terms repurposed). Second, entropy is not a simple concept to understand; it took decades from its introduction in connection with irreversibility until the fact that it represented a measurement of disorder was accepted. Ironically, it is the disorder meaning that took so long to be accepted that usually is referenced in the inapt metaphorical uses. (The OED entropy for entropy is very good, by the way.)

17. ### Rick Bryan said,

October 9, 2018 @ 8:05 pm

The physicists don't own "exponential", but try googling things like "exponentially greater risk". Boom.

18. ### Andreas Johansson said,

October 11, 2018 @ 11:43 am

The thing that bugs me about "quantum leap" is that I seem to hear more often about it being or not being a legitimate metaphor than anyone actually using it.

19. ### D.O. said,

October 11, 2018 @ 2:30 pm

If you try to apply "momentum is energy in a different reference frame" to political commentary, much hilarity may ensue.

20. ### James Wimberley said,

October 13, 2018 @ 12:49 pm