Meteors — those bright streaks of light that flare against the dark sky and occasionally deposit a new rock on our planet — have long fascinated us.
Meteor has been and remains a popular product name. Newspapers, mobile communications businesses, graphic arts firms, advertising businesses, a games company, a make of guitar and banjo, a portable stove, phonograph needles (the younger set can just look that up), tabletop patio gas heaters, tennis shoes, weather radar systems, several kinds of aircraft including a Nazi rocket plane, a filtration system, and, of course, various automobiles have carried the name Meteor. This surely is the tip of the iceberg in things named after the meteor.
One definition for meteoric is that something resembles a meteor in its sudden and temporary brilliance. And that must be what the phrase “meteoric rise” refers to — the swift increase in importance or popularity of someone. Meteors do not, however, rise. Meteorites cut across our atmosphere and leave their incandescent trail to mark their passage. At best, it’s a lateral movement; at worst, the hunk of matter from space crashes to the ground.
Naming things after something that is burning up doesn’t seem like good marketing. I had the same reaction when Chevrolet came out with the Nova years ago. A nova is an exploding star, a dying star. The connotation for the scientifically illiterate is that it’s bright and bold and new (which is what the ancient astronomers thought a nova was — a new star — hence the word). The denotation for the rest of us is less flattering.
Idiomatic usage always trumps dictionary definitions and good sense. I’m in favor of firing an occasional shot across the bow as a reminder of the inaccuracy, but so long as the idiom in question isn’t leading us into Newspeak there’s probably little value in waging a full crusade against such usage. (If, of course, the usage is Orwellian, then a scorched earth policy is in order, followed by a siege mentality against its reappearance.)
There are going to be real meteors this week. Enjoy them in their natural setting.