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I have looked up the dictionary, and, according to the Cambridge Academic Content dictionary, the word 'poised' has two meanings:

  1. [ not gradable ] ready to move, or prepared and waiting for something to happen:

    The lion was poised to strike.

  2. calm and confident:

    Angela is a polite, poised young woman.

Yet neither sense seems to fit the meaning of the word in the following excerpt from NYT's Why People Ghost.

Perspective can be a good path to empathy, Dr. Walsh said. Our always-on culture has eroded a lot of empathy, which is why we find ourselves stepping on each others’ feelings. Yet for all the choice, we’re all still seeking connections. The power of the internet and its ease in upsetting our lives is only poised to grow. It’s how we use this intoxicant that will determine its impact.

The second sense clearly does not work.

But the first sense does not seem to work, either. Here is why:

From the previous sentence "Our always-on culture has eroded a lot of empathy, which is why we find ourselves stepping on each others’ feelings," we can see that the internet's power has been growing (it has formed the always-on culture), and the ease of it in upsetting our lives has also been growing, as it has eroded our empathy.

But, if 'poised' means ready, then the sentence "The power of the internet and its ease in upsetting our lives is only poised to grow" seems to imply that "the power of the internet has not yet grown, and the ease in upsetting our lives has not yet grown. This can be compared to the example sentence "the lion is poised to strike," which says the lion is ready to strike, and implies the lion has not yet stricken.

The OED says 'poised' can also mean "to be about to do something," which seems more appropriate for this context, but again, every example sentence from the OED implies that this something that is ready or about to be done has not yet happened.

b. In passive. To be ready for something (or to do something); to be about to do something; to be set or arrayed in readiness.

1773 A. L. Aikin Poems 43 The royal bird..holds his sounding pinions pois'd for flight.

1839 H. F. Gould Poems I. 95 She swings her foot on the fearful height, Like a bird of the ocean poised for flight.

1876 W. Marston Life for Life I. 136 The Mackanes—Near you, and poised to swoop upon your nest—Are by your brother and our clan o'ertaken.

1932 W. Faulkner Light in August xvii. 381 She looked exactly like a rock poised to plunge over a precipice.

1961 National Rev. 30 Dec. 462/3 The Free Chinese know that the situation on the Mainland is in flux, and are poised to strike.

1979 Daily Tel. 3 Feb. 1/1 British Petroleum was poised last night to make further reductions in oil deliveries to customers around the world.

2004 Orlando (Florida) Sentinel (Nexis) 9 Nov. e1 By 9:30, the lights and cameras are finally poised for action.

My question is then, what does the word 'poised' really mean in this context, and how do I use the word in a similar context.

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1) The lion was poised to strike. means the lion was about or ready to strike.

The NYT article is the same exact thing.

2) The power of the internet and its ease in upsetting our lives is only poised to grow.

The power of the internet and its ease in upsetting our lives is about or ready to grow.

The only difference is that in 1) it's literal and in 2) the journalist uses it metaphorically as if it were a person or animal.

poised is often used metaphorically like that.

  • My problem is not the metaphorical use, but rather, when we say that "it is poised to do something," it implies that this something has not beeb done, but that is not the case in the report. From the context, we can infer that this something has been happening for some time. – Tom Bennett Aug 8 at 5:17
  • @TomBennett Isn't all that para basically attributed to that person? I don't want to click through again and get all those ads. Anyway, there is no other meaning for poised. – Lambie Aug 8 at 13:26

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