Sunday, March 08, 2009

"The inflection is near?"

The NYT this morning has an op-ed by Thomas Friedman with the above title. Finally, a major question in the Times that I can answer confidently:
Nearer than clitics but not as near as derivational affixes.
OK, Friedman's not thinking about how complex word forms and longer strings of speech are put together. But what exactly does the headline mean?

As illustrated (image from here), I'm guessing it must be about a point of inflection, as defined here from the Oxford Dictionary of Economics (just an excerpt):
point of inflection A point where a function changes its curvature. This means that its second derivative changes sign. For example, consider the function y  =  ax 3  +  bx , for which dy/dx  = 3 ax 2  +  b and d 2 y / dx 2  = 6 ax . ...
In this kind of journalist setting, it's got to be a much more informal meaning, maybe more or less 'turning point'. So, it would be playing on "the end is near". That seems like a long and pretty tortured path for some headline writer to have hacked through.

What am I missing here?

6 comments:

That Guy said...

I think he's just saying the point at which a course changes. See # 4 here (http://www.bartleby.com/61/19/I0131900.html): "4. A turning or bending away from a course or position of alignment." This seems to fit well with the theme of the op-ed. It's a pretty unnecessarily complicated way of saying it, though.

But beyond word stuff, I'm sort of surprised to hear Friedman talk about environmental issues.

Mr. Verb said...

Thanks, T.G. I'm more than sort of surprised to hear Friedman start with the Onion. I wonder what the editorial meeting will be like tomorrow!

Jill Sellers said...

Maybe the headline is supposed to make you think? Even think about economics, about which we are mostly sadly ignorant. It is not complicated at all--unless having to look something up, consult some source outside one's own limited understanding, is just too complicated. In which case, the hell with it.

Mr. Verb said...

I'm far from sure that this use of inflection actually LEADS anywhere, though. It's one thing to push a little beyond your readers' comfort zone, but is this an example of that?

optic said...

I think the point of the headline is less to make you think than to make you think Friedman is awfully smart!

Mr. Verb said...

Ouch.