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But this time the machine has made the opposite mistake, detecting a virus that is not there in routine swabs taken from people who have come in with other problems – an overdose, a heart attack, a urine infection – and this doesn’t sound like such a bad thing on the surface; perhaps it’ll be nice to be able to say, ‘You know, we thought you had the virus, but you don’t.’ [...] I am outraged that this error has happened. On top of all the other vile facets of this dismal pandemic – its effects on young and old, its disgusting, disproportionate grip on those who are already disadvantaged – this feels like a twist too far. I am incandescent.

I don't think the bolded incandescent is saying the author is literally glowing white. But then what does it mean?

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  • 14
    Shorthand for incandescent with rage (3rd definition here Aug 10 at 6:27
  • 2
    What's the source on this, out of curiosity? Google searching with the text of the quote only turns up this question.
    – nick012000
    Aug 11 at 13:13
  • Source: The Book About Getting Older by Lucy Pollock
    – Mari-Lou A
    Aug 11 at 15:18
  • "I am incandescent" means "I am extremely angry." The idea is that you are so angry you feel like you're burning inside. The Anger character from the movie Inside Out offers a good visualization of the concept - he glows a bit and flames shoot out of his head when he's angry.
    – John Bode
    Aug 12 at 15:50
27

To say something is incandescent is to say it is heated to the degree that it emits light. For example, incandescent light bulbs are the ones with a filament that becomes super-heated when electricity flows through it.

"Heated" can mean literally hot or angry. So, incandescent is metaphorically saying the person is super-heated to an extreme degree.

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    So, is a red-hot iron incandescent?
    – OmarL
    Aug 10 at 15:59
  • 3
    @OmarL Absolutely, yes.
    – Michael W.
    Aug 10 at 16:46
  • 7
    @OmarL by definition, anything that is red-hot is incandescent.
    – RonJohn
    Aug 10 at 17:05
  • 1
    @OmarL Another common example of incandescence (in the scientific sense) is the sun, which is incandescent gas. Aug 11 at 7:35
  • 4
    @OmarL that's getting towards physics rather than language, but flames are incandescent as the light is due to heat by 'black body radiation', but LEDs are not because they generate light via a different quantum mechanical mechanism, the 'photoelectric effect', where the electrons are 'excited' by electricity not heat. Back to language, 'incandescent' and 'candle' both come from the Latin word 'candere' and candles are incandescent. Aug 11 at 11:30
6

The particular usage in the quote provided by the OP would seem to be a contraction of "incandescent with rage". The whole of the quote describes the things the writer is angry about, so the possible alternative meanings of bright or impressive are clearly not relevant.

This usage of incandescent is so common that it is specifically listed in the Collins definition of the word.

  1. ADJECTIVE
    If you say that someone is incandescent with rage, you mean that they are extremely angry.

[literary]
It makes me incandescent with fury. [+ with]
Synonyms: furious, angry, mad [informal], raging More Synonyms of incandescent

2

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Incandescence

Incandescence is the emission of electromagnetic radiation (including visible light) from a hot body as a result of its high temperature.[1] The term derives from the Latin verb incandescere, to glow white.[2] A common use of incandescence is the incandescent light bulb, now being phased out.

Extreme anger causes the face to flush red, as if it were glowing red hot.

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  • Re "Extreme anger causes the face to flush red..." not always, and that's not even considering those whose natural melanin levels make it difficult or impossible to tell.
    – jamesqf
    Aug 10 at 20:04
  • 6
    @jamesqf the metaphor was invented by people with low natural melanin levels.
    – RonJohn
    Aug 10 at 20:14
1

It's written in a slightly confusing way. English-speakers use brightness are a metaphor for attractiveness or compentency. A good worker is a shining star, or is dazzling you with her abilities, or she's on fire (doing her job quickly and perfectly), or she's incandescent. By itself "I am incandescent" means "I am doing an amazingly good job". We commonly use the word incandescent in that way, to mean "very, very impressive".

But English speakers also like to use fire and heat metaphors for anger: a white-hot rage, burning with jealousy, a smoldering hatred, a fiery rage. But you have to say "rage" or "jealousy" for that to work -- we might equally well say a white-hot, fiery ... passionate love.

The person writing that sample probably assumed you could tell they were angry and decided to shorten "incandescent fury" (or something like that) to just incandescent. But it's confusing. I had to read it a few times. At first I assumed they meant that despite all of the problems, or maybe because of them, they were doing their job much better than normal.

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    Personally I would say "It's an incoherent rant", not "It's written in a slightly confusing way". It is completely unclear what the writer is throwing a tantrum about, IMO.
    – alephzero
    Aug 10 at 20:39
  • 1
    I'm glad somebody got that there is more to incandescent than rage. It can be a metaphor for excitement or excellence, as well. However, the quoted piece is certainly about rage and anger. We are clued in by "I am outraged".
    – Mark G B
    Aug 10 at 21:45
  • 3
    @alephzero It looks like a blog post from a nurse, complaining about false-positive COVID tests on non-COVID patients being the last straw. As just unediting writing from a regular person, not claiming to be a writer, I don't want to be too harsh. Aug 11 at 1:17
  • @MarkGB Hmmm...my point is that "incandescence" is 100% excitement or excellence, unless something else is specified. I guess I need to emphasize that more. Aug 11 at 1:20
  • If you wanted to edit for better emphasis, I would suggest you can do that by changing one word: instead of "passionate" love, use "incandescent" love.
    – Mark G B
    Aug 11 at 17:26

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