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Grammar: Misuse of “optics” to mean “appearances” or “perceptions” August 9, 2012

Posted by federalist in Language.

In recent years I have noticed a common misuse of the word “optics” by business professionals. For example:

Taking the corporate jet to testify at Congress would create a problem of optics.

The speaker meant “it would look bad.” But what he actually said suggests there is something wrong with the optical equipment of the jet, or that the jet adversely affects the projection or perception of light during Congressional testimony.

Employees can’t accept gifts from vendors because of optics.

Here the author meant accepting gifts “could create the appearance of a conflict of interest.”

“Optics” refers to the science of light, or to the mechanisms that transmit, alter, or perceive electromagnetic radiation. It is incorrect, unnecessary, and often confusing to try to use the word to describe figurative “perception” or “appearance.”

Another reason not to use “optics” as a metaphorical synonym for “appearances:” harmonics.



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