Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Black Swan Event

'Swarte Swaane drift op't Eiland Rottenest', Jakob van der  Schley, 1750. 
Willem de Vlamingh's ships at the entrance to the Swan River with some black swans.

Since Roman times a Black Swan was a synonym for something that does not exist. In 1697 the first European sighting of a real black swan was made by the crew of Dutch seacaptain Willem de Vlamingh.

He explored the Australian Westcoast with the frigate De Geelvink (Yellow Finch), the hooker De Nijptang (The Pincers) and the galiot Weseltje (Wesel). After visiting Rottnest Island he discovered a large river. He named it Swan river after the large number of black swans living there.

Black swan with not-so-black (yet) duckling (unknown photographer).

In 1726 two birds were captured and taken to Batavia (now Jakarta) as proof of their existence. At the start of the 19th century the first black swans were taken to Europe; one of the first pairs was living at empress Josephine's mansion Malmaison (click for a virtual visit).

Today a Black Swan Event describes something that is a surprise, has a major effect and is rationalized with the benefit of hindsight. Examples are the current economic crisis, 9-11 and the end of the Soviet Union.

next episode: spider


  1. Wonderful painting. I have yet to see a black swan for myself. Reading about The Black Swan event was fascinating.

  2. I'm quite sure I have never heard the expression Black Swan Event. Thanks for expanding my vocabulary and awareness in this painless way. I enjoyed this post and the picture of the duckling catching a ride.


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