glass half empty or half full

Thursday, May 15, 2008


Is the glass half empty or half full? is a common expression, used rhetorically to indicate that a particular situation could be a cause for pessimism (half empty) or optimism (half full); or as a general litmus test to simply determine if an individual is an optimist or a pessimist OR IF TODD'S MOM IS HOT. The purpose of the question is to demonstrate that the situation may be seen in different ways depending on one's point of view and that there may be opportunity in the situation as well as trouble.

engineering lore, the corollary to this rhetoric question is that, for an Engineer, the glass is neither half empty nor half full, it is just exactly twice as big as necessary.

Well, here's the editor's answer: If it's being poured: half full; drained: half empty. We don't understand why this is so difficult to figure out.

"But suppose you don't know whether it was being poured or drained--suppose you just came upon this half empty/full glass, how would you refer to it?"

We'd refer to it as a glass of water. Further pressed, we'd check for signs of pourage/drainage. If we found none, we'd say we'd need more information. We have done this before, and it tends to greatly agitate the questioner.

Now we acknowledge that in spirit it's a rhetorical question, but literally it's a question about the glass, not the respondent, so why be angry? Why not rephrase the question as "Taking this glass of water as a metaphor for your disposition, would you say you're a pessimist or an optimist?"