A little too on-the-nose as we prepare to ‘bye felicia’ the weirdest year ever?
Nah. I’ve been saving this one, it’s true. But only because it’s a DOOZY. A deceptively simple word. THREE LETTERS that are accorded what are perhaps the longest, most complicated entries in etymological dictionaries.
“New” is a tiny word that does some seriously heavy lifting in English – as well as in many of its cousin languages with which it shares its proto-Indo-European roots.
One of the oldest words known to humankind.
Because the signifier “NEW” is as old as language itself, it has quite a story to tell. Imagine … that you are an early human in a small, isolated community. Everything is new. You venture a little outside your known territory and find a plant, an animal, a rock formation that is completely and absolutely different from everything you know.
In that context, “new” is an important word. It means dangerous. It means ‘approach with caution.’ It signifies, literally, ‘something we haven’t encountered before.’
And it means experimentation. Someone’s going to have to figure out if you can touch it, eat it, use it.
But here’s the important part – that still applies today. ‘New’ is an adjective we ascribe to something that is unknown to the speaker – NOT something that didn’t actually exist before.
And that’s where the confusion begins.
We use the word ‘New” as a universal. But it is essentially and intensely particular.
Because today, when we use the word ‘new,’ we think we mean, “something not previously in existence.”
But we really mean one of 2 things:
- Not previously known or experienced by US, the speaker (new information, new lands, new species, etc.), or
- Better, improved, or transformed (new formula, new strategy, new approach).
That’s why we so often in English use the word as a redundant superlative.
New discovery, new invention, new idea, new innovation, new beginning, new construction, new recruit.
None of these words require the ‘new’ modifier. They should, by definition, be NEW. Rather, the adjective is added today to indicate added VALUE that is explicitly due to its new cognitive ownership.
In other words … ‘new’ often signifies immediate and impending ASSIMILATION. It means we can easily fit this strange-and-new-to-us-thing into the framework of what we already know. It also implies that we will make it better by doing so (Let THAT sink in).
Because the things that we CAN’T easily assimilate are not called new. We call those things FOREIGN.
NEW just means NEW TO YOU.
That’s the word, bird.