February 4, 2012

"Mirror," "reflect" and "reverse"

I stumbled across an interesting usage phenomenon with the verbs "to mirror" and "to reflect." Mirrors and reflections return the opposite of the original image or object--think of "mirror-writing" (writing from right to left, and forming letters backwards) or the evil Mirror Universe (Star Trek's counterpart of our own, which apparently is the "good" universe).  However, "to mirror" or "reflect" something mean being its identical copy or image. There's no change in polarity, as when you actually look in the mirror.  Maybe your left hand seems to be your right hand when you stand before a mirror in the real world; but when things are figuratively mirrored they go in the same direction. One of the examples in the Oxford English Dictionary is
1992    Economist 4 Jan. 54/3   McKinsey reckons a shortage of hard currency‥means that the east German car boom is unlikely to be mirrored anywhere else in Eastern Europe.
If a country in Eastern Europe were to mirror the German boom, its car production would also increase; but if you looked at a graph of the German boom in a mirror, production would of course seem to go in the direction of decrease.  This limited conception of what a mirror really does, copying but not reversing, seems very natural to me. The same phenomenon occurs when we use the word "reflect"--if trend or concept x reflects trend or concept y, it will move in the same direction as y.  To show movement in an opposite direction, we would say that x "reverses" y.  I might also use "inverts," "flips" or "spins"--but a "mirror" or "reflection" analogy would not be appropriate.  An ontological curiosity, for your delectation.

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