A perfect storm, of good things?
Lately I’ve noticed that a growing number of people do not understand the meaning of the expression “perfect storm.”
Traditionally, the expression has been used to describe an unusual series of events that combine to create a really bad situation. There’s a reason the book and film “The Perfect Storm” tells the story of what happens to a fishing boat caught in the Halloween Nor’easter of 1991 — a rare “monster storm” that occurred when “a high pressure system, a low pressure system, and the remnants from Hurricane Grace collided in a trilogy of terror,” according to About.com. Wikipedia explains that perfect storm is “nearly synonymous” with worst-case scenario, “although the latter carries more of a hypothetical connotation.”
But more and more people seem to be using the expression to describe positive situations. For instance, the Gazette recently quoted someone describing the great weather at the Saratoga County Fair as “just a perfect storm of perfect weather.”
I am sorry, but you cannot have a perfect storm of perfect weather. In a sports story this winter, a local basketball player’s outstanding scoring night was described by his coach as “kind of a perfect storm.” Perhaps it seemed that way ... if you were on the losing side. Last year, the coach of a highly-ranked high school football team was quoted saying, “Our program struggled for a long time. We came in this year with the approach of one step at a time. One day, one week at a time, and good things happened for us. The team came together. They worked hard. They bought into what we’re doing. It’s almost been a perfect storm.”
No. A perfect storm is what happens when you lose your best player to injury, half your roster is ineligible for academic reasons and your team is in trouble after leaving the sidelines to brawl with their opponents.
Most articles, I hasten to point out, do use the expression perfect storm correctly. That’s why many of the articles containing the phrase have headlines like “Factors Converged for Fatal Crash,” “Dow Worst Day Since ‘08” and “Melting Snow Overflows Dams, Raising Fears of Floods.”
I’ve actually grown to appreciate the misuse of the phrase perfect storm, because it’s hilarious. It’s also led to my new favorite expression, which I invented: “A perfect storm of good things.” As in, “Things are going really well. I’m having a good summer. Work is OK. The weather has been nice. It’s just a perfect storm of good things.” And I just might be on to something. According to the website Grammarphobia, published references for the phrase perfect storm date back to 1718, and at that time the expression was used positively, “as in a ‘perfect storm’ of applause.”
Grammarphobia also suggests that perfect storm is wildly overused, saying it should be given “a much-needed rest.” Which I don’t agree with at all. The overuse that Grammaphobia finds so problematic is one of the things that makes the phrase so funny. From what I can tell, perfect storms aren’t rare at all. They occur with alarming frequency, if the newspaper is to be believed, and in every area of life. But especially weather. And sports.
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