A Quantum Leap: Big or Small?


Welcome back. It’s good to be with you all after my holiday hiatus. We have now made a quantum leap into 2015 (doesn’t that sound space-agey?). Or have we?

I subscribe to A.Word.A.Day at http://wordsmith.org. Monday through Friday I am emailed a different word, some familiar, some esoteric. Most weeks have a theme; a few offer miscellaneous words, but all are interesting. I highly recommend you subscribe (free) to this endeavor.

Over the break, I was surprised about the word “quantum.” It seems we rarely see it used except with the noun “leap,” and I always assumed it indicated an enormous distance or amount. Much to my surprise, this was the entry sent to explain what it actually means:



1. A quantity or amount.
2. A portion.
3. A large amount.
4. The smallest amount of something that can exist independently.

1. Large.
2. Relating to the quantum theory.

From Latin quantus (how much or how great). In physics, a quantum jump or quantum leap is usually a small change, while in popular usage the term is used to mean a significant change. Earliest documented use: 1567. (Bold emphasis mine—JB)

“A quantum jump in the volume of traffic has made major snarls on the capital’s periphery a routine affair for commuters.”
Dipak Kumar Dash; New Roadmap; The Times of India (New Delhi); Nov 7, 2009.

Explore “quantum” in the Visual Thesaurus.

Where it is a duty to worship the sun, it is pretty sure to be a crime to examine the laws of heat. -John Morley, statesman and writer (1838-1923)

In fact, “quantum” does mean a large amount—but it can also mean a very small amount, especially when used in physics.

Whether your leap into the new year was major or minor, I
hope 2015 will be healthy, happy and productive for all of you. As always, I love it when you send me suggestions for topics to address. Stay in touch!


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Filed under All things having to do with the English language

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