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Last Updated: Friday, 25 January 2008, 13:33 GMT
For quant of a better word
Bond girls join Bond

By Finlo Rohrer
BBC News Magazine

The producers of the James Bond franchise have raised eyebrows among fans by revealing the next film will be called Quantum of Solace. So what exactly is a quantum of solace?

You would think that the people behind James Bond would regard themselves as once bitten twice shy.

In 1989, there was a mini-kerfuffle when they wanted to call the Timothy Dalton vehicle, Licence Revoked. It was suggested American moviegoers might not quite grasp the meaning of the word "revoked" and thus it became Licence to Kill.

But they are obviously unfazed by that experience and have plumped for the most headscratchy of titles. It might require a little explanation for most of the punters who usually turn out for Bond movies.

First off, a quantum is a type of unit.

Smallest, indivisible unit of energy
Something that has quantity
A quantity of something
An allocation of something
"A quantum is the smallest amount of energy that a system can gain or lose," explains Sam Rae, editor of the website.

Max Planck first started using the term in 1900 as part of a theory of physics at the sub-atomic level. In this theory light could be thought about as tiny lumps of energy as well as just a continuous wave, says Jim al-Khalili, professor of physics at Surrey University.

This idea of energy as tiny discrete particles was a major departure from classical physics and quantum theory was taken on by other notables such as Albert Einstein.

"It forms the foundation for most of modern physics and chemistry," says Prof al-Khalili "We wouldn't have CD players, iPods and mobile phones if quantum theory hadn't been. It is the most powerful theory in science."

Unit of compassion

But James Bond author Ian Fleming obviously thought the concept was too good to just leave to the physicists and borrowed it for a short story in the collection For Your Eyes Only in 1960.

The story is set at a dinner party where the governor of the Bahamas tells a story to Bond about a British official in the Caribbean. The man has been cuckolded by his wife, responds harshly and is left emotionally broken.

Visualisation of carbon atom with clouds of quantum particles
Quantum physics changed the world

"Everything is made of quanta [the plural of quantum]," says Prof al-Khalili.

"This looks like it is extending it to the tiniest unit of compassion."

Bond star Daniel Craig attempted to cast a little light on the matter, indicating it referred to doomed relationships. "When they go wrong, when there's nothing left, when the spark has gone, when the fire's gone out, there's no quantum of solace."

Aside from its use in quantum physics, the word has a number of other meanings, as the Oxford English Dictionary reveals. It has traditionally been used to refer to something which has quantity; to the total quantity of something; or to someone's ration of something. So the quantum of solace could be the allocation of comfort that one has been given, however large or small.

And of course most of us are familiar with the term quantum leap, to describe a sudden and large-scale-shift in something. Physicists however also use this in the opposite sense, a typical quantum leap being the smallest possible change in the energy level of an electron.

It's all as potentially confusing for Bond fans as another title that the producers could have chosen from Fleming's short stories, the Hildebrand Rarity.

Physicists will be hoping that the title might make for a bit of popularisation of the concept of quantum physics. They could be disappointed.

"I'm guessing a lot of James Bond fans will hate the title but I'm loving it," says Prof al-Khalili.

Below is a selection of your comments:

It struck me as being a bit odd, seeing a science term in a popular film title. Maybe now physicists will go and see James Bond films, and Bondites will take up quantum theory. That can't be bad.
John Palmer, Poole, Dorset

You're concentrating on the scientific meaning too much - quantum can also mean a measure of something, as in "quantum of damages", the legal expression.
BB, London

It's not so much that it's the smallest amount of anything, but that it's discrete and indivisible.

I thought it meant "a very small amount of comfort in solitude"?
Mack, London

I had been headscratching furiously (and thought I was well educated) but now I get it. The film starts one hour after the old one and he's still raw about being betrayed and then losing Vesper Lynd. Quantum of Solace - a little (or no) consolation for what's happened. Makes a lot of sense to me now.
Alex, Birmingham

I love the new title - it fits well with new Bond that we're seeing. Casino Royale showed us the emotional side to Bond and give us a peek into the reasons why he won't let anyone close to him. Quantum of Solace will hopefully show Bond at his most vulnerable (emotionally) before he hardens.
Lisa, London

The misuse of the phrase "quantum leap" especially amuses me when politicians use it for some unaccountable reason. Or maybe it is used because the person saying it knows that it means hardly any change at all.
Darren Stephens

Something that has always made me laugh is people asking for a quantum leap in performance, or the marketing folk indicating the same, when in fact it means a very small jump in performance.
Steve Jones, Peterborough

It will probably be renamed "Measure of Good Karma" in America.
Jim McDonnell, Chorley

I think you do not quite know what cuckolded means. The person who slept with his wife cuckolded him; she just cheated. Unless you mean she was having an affair with herself (which would be peculiarly unreasonable to be annoyed about), you don't mean what you said.
Jo, Cambridge

It shouldn't matter if it's confusing. If you're a real Bond fan then you should respect the fact that it comes from the pen of Ian Fleming, rather than something that's been conjured up by a group of scriptwriters in a darkened room somewhere.
Blunty, Southampton

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