Origin of the word
The Modern Latin ‘optimum’, meaning ‘the greater good’ was derived from Latin ‘optimus’, meaning ‘the best’. The philosopher and prodigious scholar Gottfried Leibniz is known to have used it in 1710 to mean ‘the best of all possible worlds’ and again in his Mémoires de Trévoux in 1737, where he cited both ‘l’Optimum’ and ‘l’Optimiste’. French ‘optimisme’ also appeared in 1737 and the English version was identified in 1759, from translations of Voltaire.
Voltaire’s work Candide took a satirical view of optimism and so the word became popular outside of its use in the field of philosophy. In 1841, Ralph Waldo Emerson interpreted it as a belief ‘that good will finally prevail’ in the world, while in 1819 Percy Bysshe Shelley used it in the sense of it being ‘a tendency to have a generally hopeful view’.
The noun optimist (1759) derives from the French ‘optimisme’ (1752).
Related words: optimistic (adj.).
“Optimism among UK small firms has fallen to its lowest level since the EU referendum, in the face of rising operational costs and a sluggish domestic economy.” – The Telegraph. 20 September 2017: Confidence among small firms tumbles, but exporters show optimism.
“Optimism bias in public sector projects is not a new phenomenon. But it is one that persists, frequently undermining projects’ value for money as time and cost are under estimated and benefits over estimated. This report uses our back catalogue to illustrate the consequences of over optimism. In doing so, we have identified some contributory factors – such as project complexity and an organisation’s culture of challenge.” – National Audit Office. December 2013: Over optimism in government projects.
1. a tendency to be hopeful and to think that good things will probably happen.