14 February 2015
The word has an interesting history. This is one history that is not generally considered apocryphal. The exclamation Eureka! is attributed to the ancient 16th century Greek scholar Archimedes and the Greek word means “I have found it.”
Archimedes reportedly shouted “Eureka!” when he dipped into his bath and took note of the fact that the water level rose. He continued to shout Eureka! as he ran on to the streets naked. Why? It just struck him that the volume of water displaced must be equal to the volume of the part of his body that was under water.
This was an eye-opener since he was trying to solve the crown issue of Hiero of Syracuse. The issue was that the king suspected some silver had been added to the crown. Archimedes was delighted that this insight should help him in assessing the purity of the irregular golden votive crown. It was a Eureka moment for him and his happiness knew no bounds.
For the simple fact that now he could measure the volume and the density, which should offer him an idea of the crown’s purity. Archimedes was so keen to share his discovery that he ran out of his bathtub onto the streets of Syracuse naked. And this was clearly a Eureka moment for him and the world of physics.
So, a Eureka moment is a moment of insight, a moment of illumination and a moment of monumental discovery. Why, it could be even be a moment of serendipity. Say your discovery of the beauties of rural England was your Eureka moment. Or, the election of a new activist prime minister was a Eureka moment for the country.
In its 24 September 2009 edition, The Economist published a trend story on mobile phones outlining how a luxury item became a tool of global development. The headline of the story: Eureka moments.
Hear what the English mathematical physicist Sir Roger Penrose had to say about Eureka moments: “People think of these Eureka moments and my feeling is that they tend to be little things, a little realisation and then a little realisation built on that.” So, you can say a Eureka moment is a moment of realisation and realisations succeeding that realisation, one finding leading to another.
That agrees with The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, which defines the “Eureka moment” thus: “It is the moment when you suddenly understand something important, have a great idea, or find the answer to a problem.”
So, say that your Eureka moment came when you were reading out a bedtime story to your little brother. Or, say your career as a journalist is built on a number of inspiring Eureka moments.
Oliver Burkeman in the website theguardian.com quotes Steven Johnson saying Eureka moments are very, very rare. He says in his science news column on 19 October 2010 that Charles Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection and Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook were all classic Eureka moments in history.
Have you ever tried playing chess? At any point in the game, several Eureka moves are possible. So, the metaphor is simple: Eureka moves are children of spontaneous creativity, something that was not planned and worked upon. Burkeman adds: “And on the morning after his alleged Eureka moment, was Darwin contemplating the implications of his breakthrough? Nope…” So, Eureka moments are not planned moments. Eureka moments spring up when you least expect them.
If your neigbourhood newspaper talks about an exciting and electrifying moment as an Eureka moment, a victorious and triumphant occasion as an Eureka occasion, it is trying to turn a beautiful and useful metaphor into a wasteful weasel word. Do not shock Archimedes lying buried in his grave.
Do not get carried away by such atrocious abusage and junk journalese. When your creative subconscious keeps working 24×7 and is never switched off, expect your Eureka moment to come unannounced, springing from nowhere.
And that will also be a sure sign that I should labour on and soldier on, other fruits of such labour notwithstanding.
This is one of the word-metaphors analysed threadbare and its usage pattern, rather abusage pattern, charted out in Much More Metaphoric Madness. This mini handbook of metaphoric usage and abusage offers expert advice, word-pictures and imagery, and ensures metaphors are longer the exclusive preserve of elite writers-authors. This provocatively and proddingly anecdotal third volume of the Metaphor Madness series is available both as an Kindle ebook (ASIN: BOONRMJ8QU) and as a print-to-order CreateSpace paperback (Title ID: 4916817). It is also available in all Smashwords formats and in its widely-dispersed global outlets
14 February 2015