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"Joe Blogg's Damascus" can be used as a metaphor to denote a sudden turning point in attitude, behaviour or some other feature of Joe Blogg's life.

What would be a similar metaphor for an important discovery in a field such as artificial intelligence that does not necessarily represent a paradigm shift but does represent substantial progress? Ideas other than "Eureka" very welcome.

Also, would this be called metonymy? If not, what's the difference?

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    "Damascus"? What variety of English are you asking about? American English metaphors featuring Damascus usually have to do with steel swords, not turning points in life stories. No common American story involves Damascus. Waterloo, Stalingrad, My Lai, many others, but none pass through Damascus. BTW, is Joe Blogg a variable or somebody famous? – John Lawler Jun 1 '13 at 18:57
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    @JohnLawler: Road to Damascus. The city itself, not so much. – Mitch Jun 1 '13 at 19:03
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    There's the dead metaphor of 'enlightenment'. – Mitch Jun 1 '13 at 19:04
  • The only Road to Damascus I can think of is (possibly) a movie with Bing Crosby and Bob Hope. Ah, Paul the Epistler, that's it. That's really current only among certain Christian sects. I think most Americans wouldn't get it right away, outside of a New Testament religious context. As I certainly didn't. Metaphors need context, not just words. – John Lawler Jun 1 '13 at 19:31
  • @JohnLawler: The first-century Road to Damascus experience of Saul of Tarsus, a persecutor of a "certain Christian sect" (as both he and you put it), is a marvelous story of how a religious reactionary's life can be turned around dramatically by an encounter with Jesus. His conversion to the Christian faith is recounted in the New Testament books of Acts, chapter 9:1-19, and Galatians 1:11-17. Saul was a witness to the stoning of Stephen (an apostle of Jesus, id., 7:58) to death, but post-conversion Saul (aka Paul, id., 13:9) became a preacher of Jesus to the Gentiles, whom he once hated. – rhetorician Jun 1 '13 at 23:12
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You could use expressions such as pivotal moment, turning point, kairotic moment. See here for some more choices.

  • Having a kairotic moment sounds like you need a visit to the emergency room. – Mitch Jun 1 '13 at 19:03
  • @Mitch I had never heard of the term, stumbled upon it while searching for a definition of the other two phrases. I guess it is somehow related to the greek Καίριος which means in the right time but I had no idea it existed in English. – terdon Jun 1 '13 at 19:10
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The usual choices besides Eureka are epiphany (“An illuminating realization or discovery, often resulting in a personal feeling of elation, awe, or wonder”) and breakthrough (“Any major progress; such as a great innovation or discovery that overcomes a significant obstacle”) or breakthru.

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The words seminal, germinal, primary, formative, and innovative all come to my mind. The hyphenated cross-pollination carries with it the notion of a discovery or innovation in one discipline informing a completely different discipline. The digital creation, storage, and sharing of data comes to mind, with its simple and yet powerful system of ones and zeros, bits and bytes.

I for one have had a relatively sudden change in beliefs and behaviors (attitudes and actions) when I turned from the traditional way of researching things (viz., through the reading of "hard copies" of books, magazines, journals, scholarly papers) to an almost purely electronic way of researching things "online".

I, too, had an epiphany when I realized I could acquire knowledge quickly and efficiently by simply going online. In fact, turning to the computer and various search engines is becoming, almost, second nature to me.

What a relief it was--and still is--for me to be able to shop online not only for information, but for "stuff" that I'd ordinarily have gotten into my car to acquire(i.e., prior to my "conversion" to the world of computers), preceded of course by letting my fingers do the walking in the Yellow pages and making numerous telephone calls prior to burning gasoline, generating pollution, and wearing out my brakes, tires . . . well, you get my point!

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One popular phrase with the sought meaning is quantum leap (or quantum jump). It is indeed a metaphor, not only a synonymous phrase (but so are most of the other answers). It means

  • an abrupt, large increase, especially in knowledge;
  • a sudden highly significant advance; breakthrough
    (from its use in physics meaning the sudden jump of an electron, atom, etc, from one energy level to another).

Some examples of its usage are in Wiktionary.

I genuinely dislike it for referring to quanta (tiny things) to mean something of great significance. The main connection between the original physical meaning and the metaphorical one is the distinct nature of the changes. I've always felt that the motivation to use it is the wish to say something profound, but ending up being pseudoprofound.

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