Re: "Opportunistic"

Subject: Re: "Opportunistic"
From: Ned Bedinger <doc -at- edwordsmith -dot- com>
To: Techwr-l <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 19 Jan 2009 11:53:47 -0800

McLauchlan, Kevin wrote:
> The first definition of opportunism in my copy of The Concise Oxford
> says:
> the adaptation of policy or judgement to circumstances or opportunity,
> esp. regardless of principle.

Oxford's first definition is pretty darned evocative of cliche-bound
corrupt, self-aggrandizing poli(cy)ticians. But your British-centric
dictionary is perhaps a little bit too developed in that direction for
my U.S. English taste. In fact, we're oceans apart.

The online Merriam Webster has a different take, as anyone would expect
of Webster, whose work stemmed from the realization that British
dictionaries were not cataloging American English. Practical concern for
consequences is, er, perhaps not as relevant today, but my understanding
of opportunistic behavior is broader, pretty much as MW states at the

M-W.COM: taking advantage of opportunities as they arise: as (a)
exploiting opportunities with little regard to principle or consequences
<a politician considered opportunistic> (b) feeding on whatever food is
available <opportunistic feeders> (c) being or caused by a usually
harmless microorganism that can become pathogenic when the host's
resistance is impaired

If I may interpret? MW defines 'opportunistic' in broadest terms, and
gives three iconic examples (a,b,c). There are, of course, a realistic
bazillion other less-observed opportunists acting up at any given time;
climbing a mountain because it's there is vintage opportunism.

There's something strange, IMHO, about the way these definitions and
examples cater to any predisposition to read bad behavior into merely
opportunistic things.

I wish MW had used 'avail' instead of 'take advantage', because the
latter will irrationally suggest 'take unfair advantage' to some.

Some of us will look at the definition of an opportunistic pathogen and
say "Aha. Just like the politicans, these pathogens don't care if they
kill you as long as they get to do what they want to do."

Of pathogens and politicians, true maybe. But not generally true of
opportunists, opportunism, or opportunistic behavior.

Global nothing,

Ned Bedinger
doc -at- edwordsmith -dot- com

> It's the final phrase that's key to the tone.
> Put that up next to the Golden Rule (treat others as you would have them
> treat you), and you see why it has negative connotation.
> So, "enterprising" is a good choice.
> But, I see nothing at all wrong with taking advantage of a situation for
> my benefit - that's being enterprising. If you had said something about
> "to the disadvantage of third parties who had never given cause" (or
> similar), then I'd have agreed with your definition of opportunistic.

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Re: "Opportunistic": From: Stuart Burnfield
RE: "Opportunistic": From: McLauchlan, Kevin

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