Internet searches reveal that people want to know about the title as well as the purportedly licentious scenes involving Ms. Portman’s character. Beyond the movie, “Black Swan” has a number of remarkable meanings that we now present for your edification and amusement.
First of all, swan ultimately derives from the Indo-Eurpoean swen, “sound.” Black swans are relatively common in New Zealand, but in parts of the world they denote a rare occurrence. This perception is partially responsible for the sense of black swan as “a phenomenon that occurs even though it had been thought to be impossible.” Two fascinating notions emerge from this concept.
In philosophy, a black swan is used to discuss falsifiability, to the difference between an observation and a universal generalization of the observation. A modus tollens (Latin for “the way that denies by denying”) works like this: “if it’s Tuesday this must be Belgium and this isn’t Belgium so it’s not Tuesday.”
The mathematician Nassim Nicholas Taleb came up with the Black swan theory to address when rare and improbable events have a huge impact on people’s lives and the world in general. The September 11 attacks and the rise of the Internet are considered exemplary “black swans.”
But these fascinating diversions don’t seem to have much to do with the title of Natalie Portman’s film. That swan is an allusion to the ballet “Swan Lake,” which involves two female roles that mirror each other except that one character wears black while the other wears white. A production of “Swan Lake” forms the backdrop for the psychological drama of the film. Until the release, we can only infer that the “black” suggests psychological darkness.
Are there are any phrases floating around in popular culture you would like to see deciphered here? (Such as “What does the ‘i’ in iPod stand for?”) Let us know.