Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Morphing's Law

I've been thinking a lot lately about the use of new words within the context of historical writing. Specifically, the use of the word "morph" or "morphing," which in the last month or so has appeared in a book I've been reading about literary figures in the 50's and a historical novel whose story pre-dates the 20th century. In both instances, the word looked somewhat jarring; it felt like I was being wrested out of the comfortable time-space continuum into which the books had lulled me, and thrown into a blog much like this one, where words like "morph" are flung around with alacrity.

If a new word has entered the lexicon, does that make it fair game? Does it give any writer permission to use it wherever or whenever s/he may see fit? Can a biography of, say, Napoleon point out that he 'morphed' from a feared leader of the French revolution to defeated exile? I might be too fusty to think that a word that connotes a certain computer generated special effect should be re-purposed in such a way. But "morph" might just melt into the vernacular like so many other words that once seemed so strange, and then perhaps I can stop wringing my hands. It hurts!

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