This optics craze began earlier than I thought. In fact, I found an article from 2018 complaining about its overuse. It’s definitely getting worse.
Optics is a perfectly good word. But something unusual happened to it: We’re now in an optics craze in which it’s being used to death.
The word entered our language in the late 14th century. It came from Old English, Medieval Latin and Greek. It refers to “having to do with sight or seeing.”
I’m sure you know that. In an of itself, there’s nothing wrong with the word.
What’s wrong is this new usage that refers to appearance and perception.
I know you’ve heard what I’m talking about.
Consider these examples:
“You’d really hope that someone like Tom Brady, who’s in such a heavy position of influence, not just locally but globally… understand[s] the optics of this – that it’s not necessarily a good look for [the Bucs] to be doing this.”
“For the sake of personal optics, Trump is evidently willing to sacrifice the wellbeing of even his most fervent supporters — the ones who show up at campaign rallies. There is no price too high for anything that might enhance his re-election prospects — provided someone else pays it.”
“He said he’s ‘keenly aware’ of the optics, but that he shouldn’t be blamed.”
As you’ve probably guessed, this “new” usage refers not to sight or seeing but to appearance. It’s about how things are perceived, and it’s usually used to imply a negative connotation.
I thought it was relatively new. I really started noticing it when people spoke of the George Floyd protests. They talked about the optics of protesters damaging their own communities as well as the optics of police showing up to peaceful protests wearing riot gear.
It turns out optics made the 2018 list of overused words. Lake Superior State University puts out the list of words every year. That year, they included optics alongside other overused favorites as collusion and thought leader.
Well, to be fair, I’m sick of hearing all three. (I wrote about thought leader in 2019.)
But optics has to be an even bigger annoyance. Maybe when it begins annoying even more people, it’ll finally fade away.