OnWords: Blue Wave

Dec 11, 2018

After this year’s midterm elections, news-types spent countless hours trying to decide if the results could be described as a “blue wave” or not.

“Blue wave” is supposed to mean the electorate turning toward Democratic candidates, by associating their victory with the blue often used to indicate Democratic candidate victories on electoral maps.

What makes this interesting is not the post-election attempt to define “blue wave” but the fact that these same people spent countless hours trying to predict a blue wave before the election as well.    

You’d think they would have defined it well enough to determine if the results fit the definition or not.

However, the results were mixed: Democrats took back the House and a few governorships, but lost seats in the Senate.

Terms like “blue wave” are hard to define not because of their complexity but because of their lack of it. They imply binary conditions that simply aren’t true of complex human behavior.

It’s hard to know whether those looking for, or fearing, a blue wave really do see the world in a simplistic way, but endlessly debating it certainly gives them something to do—convenient when your job is to talk about politics.

Ostensibly, the meaning of a word is decided by its users. In the case of “blue wave,” perhaps a better definition would be that it’s undecided by its users.

And maybe that really is an accurate reflection of the way things are.