English is a foreign language to me, and one word that is particularly confusing is "polarize". In physics, it has contradictory definitions; when polarizing waves you remove inequality, but polarizing can also mean to cause something to acquire polarity, or in other word emphasize inequality. When applied to opinions, however, people usually seem to have the second definition in mind.

  1. In a Huffington Post blog entry, I found the phrase "polarized opposite opinions". Is this an indication that "polarized opinions" on its own could be interpreted as "unified opinions" unless clarified? Otherwise, how should I understand the phrase?
  2. I've compared the number of search results for "polarized opinions" and "polarizing opinions", and the latter seems to be more popular. Nevertheless, to me that one seems to imply that the opinions themselves bear the responsibility of dividing people into groups, instead of blaming the people who formulate the opinions. Is that correct, or is there another distinction between "polarized" and "polarizing"?



Polarized opinions does not necessarily imply two opposite opinions, it implies two different opinions. While in the strictest sense, of magnetic or charge poles, the two poles will indeed be opposite, the same does not necessarily hold true of opinions. In everyday usage, the phrase polarized opinions implies that a group of people have different (usually strong) opinions on a particular subject. Yes, they do tend to be mutually exclusive but they need not be opposite as such.

As for polarized vs. polarizing, they are both correct, they just mean different things. For example, both these sentences are perfectly correct:

Abortion is a polarizing issue


Our society is polarized with respect to abortion

It is the same principle as and other verb, for example heating and heated.

  • Does this mean that my original assumption is correct, i.e. that polarizing opinions are blamed for the separation of people into distinct groups and with the people seen as passive "victims", while polarized opinions have been formulated by people who have actively chosen to assume different views? – Anders Sjöqvist Feb 11 '14 at 4:37
  • @AndersSjöqvist not quite, it is not specific to polarize. For example: People have polarized opinions on polarizing subjects is equivalent to People are infuriated by infuriating behavior. The opinions themselves are not polarizing (usually), they are polarized by something. Polarizing opinions is usually found as part of a larger sentence: Subject X is polarizing opinions. – terdon Feb 11 '14 at 4:43
  • The author states a pair of polarized opposite opinions. If this is not redundant (a tautology), I must excuse myself from discussing any tautologies whatsoever. – anongoodnurse Feb 11 '14 at 4:44
  • @Susan oh I agree, it is most certainly a tautology or at the very least a pleonasm. The first version of my answer started by accusing the author of ignorance but I toned it down. However, you can have polarized opinions without their being exactly opposite. For example, religion is a very polarizing subject yet there are countless different opinions on it not all of which (or any) are exact opposites of one another. To get the full blown tautology, I would say many opposing polarized opinions but I'm a nit picker by trade and nature. – terdon Feb 11 '14 at 4:56
  • @terdon - good point. You are correct. I like your tautology. :) – anongoodnurse Feb 11 '14 at 6:09

Huffington Post is a site that must sometimes be read with an appreciation for satire. The post starts:

I have friends and acquaintances who for years I've known to be rational, intelligent and competent. Most have careers doing complex sophisticated work... Try it with discipline in parenting, with health care reform, with the recent Zimmerman verdict. Pick any issue or current event which purports to have a "dialogue" associated with it. You'll likely find a pair of polarized opposite opinions, each assuming the other to be untrustworthy and potentially dangerous.

This is an example of tautology

In rhetoric, a tautology is when a meaning is repeated; this is often done using different words that say the same thing. Most often this is used unintentionally (say the same thing twice), but it can of course also be used for emphasis.

It can also be used for irony or satire, which is the reason I believe Mr. Muzeo is using it, especially as the article is titled "Our Opinions Are Dumbing Us Down". If he is not using it intentionally, then he is proving his point, as tautologies are usually taken as an example of sloppy writing.

Famously bad (or good) tautologies: "They are simply going to have to score more points than the other team to win the game" - John Madden
"A low voter turnout is an indication of fewer people going to the polls" / "It isn't pollution that's harming the environment. It's the impurities in our air and water that are doing it" / "If we don't succeed, we run the risk of failure" (all 3 Dan Quayle)
"I used to be an agnostic, but now I’m not so sure." Yogi Berra
I want to live while I am alive - Bon Jovi

Author Dan Brown's writing is full of tautologies, so much so that one book critic imitated his style, s writing,

Renowned author Dan Brown got out of his luxurious four-poster bed in his expensive $10 million house and paced the bedroom, using the feet located at the ends of his two legs to propel him forwards.

  • Thank you, Susan. My guess was that it was a tautology, but because of my confusion I couldn't be certain. Above all, this helped by giving an explanation of why he chose to write a tautology, which is what I needed. I would, however, argue that there are very distinct differences between friends and acquaintances, between rational, intelligent and competent and between complex and sophisticated. But perhaps it's counted as a tautology even if the words are only partially synonymous? – Anders Sjöqvist Feb 11 '14 at 4:26
  • @AndersSjöqvist - I agree with you, they are not perfect tautologies, but the entire article is riddled with such unnecessary utterances. It appears the whole article is aimed at tautology. – anongoodnurse Feb 11 '14 at 4:31
  • I wish that I could award two accepted answers. I appreciate your response, which is insightful and answers parts of my question, but terdon helped me choose between "polarized" and "polarizing" for the text I'm writing. – Anders Sjöqvist Feb 11 '14 at 5:57
  • @AndersSjöqvist - that's very kind of you. As I completely glossed over that aspect of your question (my mistake), I concur with your choice! :) – anongoodnurse Feb 11 '14 at 6:00

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