It's Christmas! And I’m very merry. When I find myself in such a condition, I gain access to the energy and the love, to try to eradicate another mindless boilerplate phrase that everyone uses all the time. This week's victim is “inflection point.” It's a technical concept in mathematics, but we can't really be concerned with that until the fourth paragraph. What it really is: a less definite but evidently no less catchy “tipping point,” the phrase that came in 2005 to replace the relatively straightforward “turning point.” After a few years of saying nothing else, people other than Malcolm Gladwell eventually tired of “tipping point” ("the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point"). Fashionably blank though it was, it was still too definite for boomer politicians and millennial commentators. As boomer politicians and millennial commentators do, they were looking for something pretentious yet meaningless that they could insert into every single sentence. “Inflection point” did the trick.
Joe Biden, ever since his inflection point speech, has been referred to here and there as the "inflection point president." This is appropriate, as the man leans on the phrase as though it were his walker. Maybe it came from someone's math class, though it's been forever since Biden took a math class. Or maybe it just expresses the “monkey hear, monkey say” verbal style of our president and everyone else in DC. So it may be tempting to dismiss anyone who uses the phrase as a chump and mediocrity. Plausible as that is, it might be premature. Perhaps, instead, “inflection point” is a neurological condition or “glitch.” And as psychologists have taught us all these decades, you can't blame someone just because their brain is totally fucked. But you can medicate them, thank God, which fills me with hope at this festive season.
In mathematics, the inflection point isn’t the turning point, though the two phrases are used synonymously by boomer politicians and millennial pundits. Indeed, at the inflection point, the curve is proceeding smoothly and undetectably from concave to convex or vice versa. At the inflection point, in general, the line takes no turn at all.
[Swiped from the ethical skeptic website.]
An inflection point is more like a midway point than a turning point. But "we have reached the midway point" just doesn't convey the blank-ass hooey that we're shooting for.
Then the concept infiltrated the world of business jargon. In economics, its meaning is straightforward: inflection point theory is "the value chain theory which focuses upon the ergodicity entailed from neural or dynamic constraints change, which is a critical but not sufficient condition or event; however, nonetheless serves to impart a desired shift in the underlying dynamic inside an asymmetric, price taking or competitive system." I like to imagine that that's just what Biden means each time he uses the term, but at times my faith wavers.
At any rate, for the last five years, every single second has been a distinct inflection point for Biden or, for example, all college presidents and bureaucrats of any kind. But for Biden, October 7 was a real inflection point; in particular, it was an inflection point in his use of “inflection point.” In his "inflection point" speech from the Oval Office, he began by saying, "Good evening, my fellow Americans. We’re facing an inflection point in history. One of those moments where the decisions we make today are going to determine the future for decades to come." American political rhetoric has ascended from "We have reached a rendezvous with destiny" to "We have reached inflection point #7492."
The next month, his staff escalated with an "opinion column" in the so-called Washington Post that began: "Today, the world faces an inflection point, where the choices we make—including in the crises in Europe and the Middle East—will determine the direction of our future for generations to come." Ditching the parenthetical, this is a line that appears in every Biden speech about anything, and so can’t constitute self-plagiarism. Biden can't take a dump without reaching an inflection point, the smooth consistent region in the middle of a turd.
Speaking of parentheses, I'd ask the Post why they’re printing a slightly-revised version of a presidential speech as an op-ed. I'd like to point out that the byline is false and it was written by Biden's staff. Also, I'd like to point out that searching “inflection point” on the Post site brings back 11,590 hits. In addition, I’ll gently insist that the wars in Ukraine and Israel are completely different conflicts with completely different arcs. It’ll take more than your empty-ass phraseology to give them the same inflection point, whatever you may mean by that.
But those are substantive objections, hence not the sort of thing that people who use the phrase “inflection point” concern themselves with.
—Follow Crispin Sartwell on X: @CrispinSartwell