I'm confused about how dynamic can be used as a noun here:

ODO: {noun} 1. A force that stimulates change or progress within a system or process:

Third Example Sentence thereunder:

The terrible poverty at the global level he sees as getting worse, with the same dynamic at work within all countries, even industrialised ones.

Is this use wrong? The definition requires change or progress, but this is refuted by '...poverty... getting worse...". Can you help me resolve this apparent contradiction?

  • 1
    How does getting worse contradict change? I would say that getting worse is change.
    – oerkelens
    Aug 4 '14 at 13:46
  • @oerkelens I suspect the "progress" part influenced the OP's thinking.
    – user230
    Aug 4 '14 at 14:29
  • @snailplane - I would still hope that when my doctor reports "no change" it does not mean that negative change is included in that answer :P
    – oerkelens
    Aug 4 '14 at 14:31
  • I didn't say it influenced my thinking.
    – user230
    Aug 4 '14 at 14:31
  • @snailplane Yes, I'm confused by 'progress'.
    – NNOX Apps
    Aug 5 '14 at 10:46

Every now and then there's a case where many of the online dictionaries have a less-than-ideal definition, and IMO, this is one of those cases. Looking through the dictionaries referenced by onelook.com, the only definition that I felt did justice to the noun variant of dynamic comes from The American Heritage Dictionary:

  • dynamic (noun):
    1. An interactive system or process, especially one involving competing or conflicting forces: "The traditional nineteenth-century dynamic between the sexes had begun to erode" (Jean Zimmerman).
    2. A force, especially political, social, or psychological: the main dynamic behind the revolution.

Your quote could be transformed as follows:

The terrible poverty at the global level he sees as getting worse, with the same dynamic at work within all countries, even industrialised ones.

The terrible poverty at the global level he sees as getting worse, with the same socio-economic system/process/force at work within all countries, even industrialised ones.

From my own native AmEng intuitive sense of English, the word dynamic here seems to encompass a combination of all three meanings: system, process, and force. One might understand from context what type of dynamic is being referenced, but it's often preceded by a categorizing adjective. Here's some word usage from COCA:1

  • ...will cause government debt to rise faster than national income, pushing Italy to the brink of insolvency. # A different market dynamic affected the relationship between European commercial banks and European governments. (Feldstein, The failure of the Euro. Foreign Affairs, Jan/Feb2012, Vol. 91 Issue 1, p105-116)

  • PAUL: Hi, good afternoon, thanks for taking my call. CONAN: Sure. PAUL: I, as I indicated to your screener, I am a teacher who changed the scores on tests. This goes back - I'm both glad and sorry to say - over 20 years ago that I did that. And it was in a private school with a proprietary owner. And what I wanted to speak to is the human dynamic behind the impulse to do such a thing. I was in a school with children with significant emotional needs for whom at the time was a small group of teachers. We excused our actions based on the fact that they would improve the sort of positive reinforcement among our students. They were in a longitudinal setting, which meant that we could have them through age 20 or 21. So we always felt, well, we'll have another chance. (NPR, 08/15/2011. WHEN TEACHERS CHEAT, WHAT ABOUT THE KIDS?)

  • It is imperative that any differentiated lesson or assignment be based on the applicable characteristics of a particular group of students with regard to their readiness levels, interests, or learning profiles. Just as all students are unique, each class of students has a unique group dynamic. What works with one fifth-grade class may not work for every fifth-grade class. (Music Educators Journal, 2011. Differentiation in the Music Classroom.)

  • The passage/quote in the next paragraph (after this one) discusses the relationship between ticks and "Coati bands" (which are small social groups of Coati, an animal related to the racoon). The ticks seem to be taking advantage of the social structure of the group by attacking the lone males. On the other hand, the social structure of the group may be influenced by the ticks. So the parasite-host dynamic may be complicated:

    ...often pause during their daily travels to rest, nurse offspring, and to groom -- not only themselves but one another. An animal that is on its own can not reach all parts of its body to remove all potential parasites, no matter how large. Thus, the solitary males I found that were plagued by ticks. # Still, we can't necessarily conclude that a parasite-host dynamic depends on the parasite adapting to the host's social structure. Parasitism involves two interacting species, and so coati social structure and perhaps even female nesting behavior could have evolved in part as a response to the selective pressures of parasitism...

1. COCA Reference Link dynamic.[nn*] (If that link doesn't work, try this)


I think your reliance on that definition is restricting your comprehension. In your example, what the force does is not the issue (actually a dynamic doesn't necessarily only bring about "change or progress" - it can have other effects as well).

It's best to think of a dynamic as a basic force, whose nature is made clear by the context.

In your example, it sounds like a negative or even destructive force. Again, that would have to be determined by reading the entire paragraph.

Another common use of dynamic is in describing an inter-relational rapport with people - how you react to them, communicate with them:

My math teacher and I had a strange dynamic. She would allow me to answer questions out of turn and interrupt her with comments, as if she valued my input. She wasn't that tolerant with the other students.

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