Are we ophthalmologists in the eye of the storm?

November 1, 2016

This meteorological phenomenon is considered to have given rise to one of the most commonly misused phrases in the English language. Some people think the phrase means that the situation is a tumultuous one, as when The Economist magazine reported: “French bank shares, which have been in the eye of the storm, recovered sharply (BNP Paribas was up 13% on the day while Societe Generale rose by 5%).”

A large hurricane, named Matthew, recently impacted the Caribbean and southeastern region of the United States. At midday on Oct. 7, the National Hurricane Center reported that the “eye [of this giant storm] was brushing portions of the northeast coast of Florida.”

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This meteorological phenomenon is considered to have given rise to one of the most commonly misused phrases in the English language. Some people think the phrase means that the situation is a tumultuous one, as when The Economist magazine reported: “French bank shares, which have been in the eye of the storm, recovered sharply (BNP Paribas was up 13% on the day while Societe Generale rose by 5%).”

In this instance, the author seems to think that being in the eye is really bad (in the case the stock price). The stock gets hammered when it is in the eye, only to recover once outside.

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Others interpret the phrase differently. If a big storm is passing over one's location and the eye suddenly appears overhead, this interpretation means that the problem is half over. So this has a positive implication, in that at least the person in the eye of the storm has survived 50% of the crisis.

In this usage, the phrase means something like "in the middle of a bad situation," and is what Heidi Klum meant when, speaking about her troubled marriage to the singer, Seal, said: "I'm still in the eye of the storm right now, so I don't know what will happen in the future.  Sometimes you need to be apart to figure it out."

Misused phrase

 

Still, others point out that the eye of the storm is nice and calm, without the strong winds and rain of the rest of the hurricane. But "beware of the eye" and it's false promise of safety that might lure one out of shelter only to be caught in a vulnerable situation when the life-threatening wind and rain return once the eye passes. So the eye is a false calm in the center of a real or figurative storm.

But, at least we can agree, can we not, that the name for this phenomenon derives from the satellite photos showing the 20- to 40-mile wide hole in the storm's center and its resemblance to an eye? This explanation is commonly cited for the origin of the phrase we so commonly misuse.

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The problem with this explanation is that the phrase appears in print in books written centuries ago. Charles Tomlinson wrote in 1861 in The Tempest:  An Account of the Origin and Phenomena of Wind in Various Parts of the World: “The cyclone disc is sometimes so thin at or near the centre, whether calm or not, that it may often be seen through, which clear space at the centre is termed by the Spaniards the eye of the storm... In April 1840, the Tigris encountered a short but severe cyclone. In the midst of it, while lying to, 'the clouds broke away and the sun shown out, the whole surface of the water as white as snow with foam, and coloured like the rainbow in all directions. At 11 the wind blew with such fury that the three topgallant masts were blown away, the spencer split to pieces and furled sails blown to shreds from the yards."

Many Ophthalmology Times readers, like me, probably have no idea what a spencer is, but we are aware that the Soviets didn’t launch Sputnik until 1958 and satellite imagery (Spanish or otherwise) was hard to come by when Tomlinson and others were writing about the eye of the storm in the 1800s, and not even airplanes would be able to fly above these storms until almost a century later.

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So, depending on the author, being “in the eye of the storm” is either good (at least temporarily), bad, or offering hope because it means one is halfway through the bad time.

 

References

http://www.economist.com/blogs/freeexchange/2011/09/euro-crisis

http://www.rte.ie/entertainment/2012/0418/436834-klumh/