I just joined your optical society, and need clarification regarding a very vague phrase I keep encountering while learning about polarization effects: "the two polarization components" or "the two components" of polarized light. I have read several textbooks and articles that use this phrase, yet none have ever explained it.
In circular polarization, Wikipedia for example talks about linearly polarized light entering a medium and the electric field becoming "two linear components of equal amplitude" that are out of phase with each other. In quarter wave plates that change the polarization state of light, the textbooks talk about the "phase of one of the two components being changed by a quarter". However, these "components" are never defined.
Are they talking about the two components being the electric field and magnetic field components, which are perpendicular to each other? Are they talking about two polarized light waves propagating through a medium, one s-polarized and one p-polarized? Are they talking about one light wave actually being divided into two light waves while propagating through the material? And are the "two components" mentioned in a quarter-wave plate different than the "two components" propagating at different velocities, as in a birefringent material? Thanks for any input you might have.