The Wrong Kind of Leap

I was watching a bit of CNN, eating a strawberry Greek yogurt, and generally feeling contentment, when legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin came on. Mr. Toobin is a man I hold in the highest regard. His legal and political critiques of various “goings on” in Washington DC, or regarding high profile felony cases, are keenly observed and intelligently articulated. You could say I’m a fan. But Jeffrey made a faux pas that has become increasingly prevalent in our technical and technological world.

He was likening the FBI’s recent “raid” of the President’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, to the historic moment when the Whitewater controversy turned into the Monica Lewinsky scandal, a transition he called a quantum leap upwards in severity. A lot of people make this mistake, and hey, he’s a lawyer, not a physicist, but it still gets on my nerves every time I hear it. My consternation stems from the fact that a quantum leap forward or upward, or in any direction or medium, is the smallest unit of movement physically possible in our universe. A quantum leap in physical position in the universe, for example, would likely be a Planck Length. Just so we all understand the scale involved here, it is [1.6 x 10 to the 35th meters.] That’s about 10 protons holding hands. Very. Very. Very. Very tiny.

I can’t really blame Mr. Toobin for his mistake. The term has likely gone through a cultural shift thanks to a science fiction show of the same name. It’s real meaning has gotten lost. I can only suggest that all of us look up a word, particularly jargon words, before using them before such a large audience.

“a discrete quantity of energy proportional in magnitude to the frequency of the radiation it represents.”
—Google Dictionary