Black Swan Meaning: Here’s What It Means and How To Use It

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Imagery and idioms are two incredibly powerful tools for writing and speaking. We can liven up our vocabulary by creating vivid comparisons to create more engaging conversations. 

The phrase “black swan” is one of those amazing combinations of words that uses wonderful imagery to make a point. It’s a very useful phrase and can be used in various contexts to make you sound great. 

Today’s phrase of the day is black swan. By the end of this short guide, you’ll have a solid understanding of the word black swan, its definitions, its etymology, and how to use it. Let’s get started. 

What Is the Meaning of Black Swan?

The phrase black swan has a relatively simple meaning, and it perhaps could be said differently, but using this phrase is a great way to make for more engaging language. Here’s the definition of the phrase black swan. 

  • A swan that is mostly black, common in Western Australia and Tasmania
  • An event that you could not have predicted, which typically has drastic consequences
  • A very rare thing

Of course, there are actual swans in real life that are black, but they are incredibly rare. They are only common in one part of the world, but they do exist. The first European record of a black swan did not come until 1697 from the Dutch explorer Willem de Vlamingh.

The other definitions center around the idea that a black swan is incredibly rare and is hardly ever seen. A black swan event is something that you could not have predicted. It’s an event that takes place with dire consequences that nobody could have seen coming. 

We can also use the phrase to describe anything incredibly rare. You might describe your spouse or significant other as a black swan because they are one-in-a-million. You could also use it to describe your favorite hole-in-the-wall restaurant.  

The Black Swan Paradox

There is also a concept called the black swan paradox that is important in the world of artificial intelligence or AI and machine learning. There are two types of learning and probability calculating in machine learning: frequentist and Bayesian. 

Frequentist learning makes predictions and sets patterns based on what has happened or happened frequently. It takes observable data and makes predictions based on that data. 

But that leaves some holes in the calculation. The black swan paradox states that just because something hasn’t happened before doesn’t mean it won’t ever happen. The bayesian calculation, however, takes into account more possibilities and has thus become an important part of machine learning and the development of AI. 

The Black Swan Theory

The black swan theory is a set of ideas made popular by a man named Nassim Nicholas Taleb. In his book The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, he puts forth many ideas about black swan events. 

Nassim Taleb has had an incredible career with great success in trading in the stock market and currencies. Essentially, his theory is that luck is one of the most important parts of life: the unknown or unexpected. He states that because life is so unpredictable and non-linear, we should be careful only to consider the facts clearly to have success. 

He believes humans tend to distort facts due to our love of stories. We tend to assume or even create large stories to explain away random events. We draw lines of causation that aren’t there, which leads us to distort reality and believe crazy things. 

Where Did the Phrase Black Swan Come From?

The phrase has ancient origins, but they are relatively straightforward. The phrase comes from the Latin author Juvenal. He was alive during the first and second centuries. The phrase black swan comes from his work Satires. 

In his work, Juvenal states “rara auis in terris nigroque simillima cycno,” which means “[a good woman is] a rare bird in this world and very like a black swan.”

This poetic language that was penned almost two thousand years ago has been used again and again throughout the centuries. Black swan symbolism is a rare case in which a piece of imagery persists throughout many different cultures and periods. 

What Are Some Examples of the Word Black Swan in a Sentence?

Seeing a word in context can help clarify its definition and how you can use it in your own life. Here are some example sentences that use the word black swan.

The financial crisis on Wall Street in 2008 was the black swan that took out my small business for good. 

The pandemic and other such events are black swans that befall millions of families, and we should do what we can to help alleviate the severe consequences. 

My spirit animal is the black swan because I’m such an outlier in this white swan world

These unpredictable black swan events will kill your business unless you prepare for the worst and always have safeguards in place.

The crazy black swan event where the financial markets crashed completely blew away our normal expectations and had dire consequences.

What Are the Synonyms of the Word Black Swan?

Here are some synonyms of the word black swan that you might find in a thesaurus.

  • Tail risk
  • Rare event
  • Unexpected event
  • Disastrous
  • Calamitous
  • Fateful
  • Turning point
  • Breaking point
  • Standout
  • Legend

What Are its Antonyms?

And here are some antonyms for the word black swan.

  • Everyday occurrence
  • Commonality
  • Predictable
  • Average

The Word Black Swan

Now you know everything you need to know about the word black swan, its definition, its history, and how to use it. Use it confidently in your writing and your conversation. And if you need a refresher on this word, come back to this article for the information you need. 


BLACK SWAN | Meaning & Definition for UK English | Lexico

The Black Swan | Harvard Business Review 

Black Swan Paradox Definition | DeepAI