Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Daily Hump: Sea Change

Ah, sweet Election Day hangover--as The Union Leader of New Hampshire notes "Dems surge in sea change for House". Radio Iowa reports a "Sea-change in Iowa's congressional delegation". Hillary Clinton urges a "sea change" in Mideast policy. We must thank Shakespeare for the phrase sea change, which first makes an appearance in The Tempest. As Ariel, the spirit of the air, sings
Full fathom five thy father lies:
Of his bones are coral made:
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Michael Quinion notes
Shakespeare obviously meant that the transformation of the body of Ferdinand’s father was made by the sea, but we have come to refer to a sea change as being a profound transformation caused by any agency. So pundits and commentators who think it has something to do with the ebb and flow of the tide, and use it for a minor or recurrent shift in policy or opinion, are doing a grave injustice to one of the most evocative phrases in the language.
A grave injustice, indeed! A quick search on Technorati shows 74 blogs using the phrase "sea change" in the past 24 hours, about 24 of these also mentioning the word "Democrats". On Google News we find 37 articles published in the past 24 hours that use "sea change" and 12 of those mention the word "Democrats". Thus, in both cases about 33% of online sources appear to be using the phrase sea change in reference to a shifting political tide.

Michael Quinion reports that the earliest idiomatic use of sea change seems to be from 1877; the OED says the first allusive use was from a 1917 Ezra Pound poem. In both cases sea change was used apolitically. At the earliest, it seems sea change wasn't used in reference to politics until after WWI.

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:: posted by David, 8:28 AM


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