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You spin me right round

It used to be that a revolution was a very important kind of change, ((OED Revolution III. 6. b. An instance of great change or alteration in affairs or in some particular thing (from c.1450); 7. A complete overthrow of the established government in any country or state by those who were previously subject to it; a forcible subsitution of a new ruler or form of government (from 1600).)) but now the term can be applied to any old way of trying to persuade “consumers” to buy a new version of something they already bought a new version of a couple of years ago: right now, for instance, a 3D TV. Personally, I have never owned a television that was not three-dimensional? But a breathless Samsung press release, apparently published by mistake as a news item in the Guardian, puts me right with quotes in the epic register from media-industry titans:

“It’s quite simply the entertainment revolution of our time,” said DreamWorks’ chief executive, Jeffrey Katzenberg. ((I note with chagrin that the American publishers of my first book insisted on a subtitle that also contained this phrase entertainment revolution, and I still don’t know what it means.)) […] Samsung’s president of visual display products, Boo Keun Yoon, told the Guardian that […] “I believe 2010 will be the year of the 3D television revolution.”

This would be, then, one of those revolutions instigated from above: it’s the people attempting to hawk 3D TV products who are predicting revolution, rather than the pixel-addled masses who are agitating for it.

The worlds of marketing, management and politics no doubt teem with revolutions even less consequential than this one, and I must sadly conclude that the word revolution is pretty much clapped out through excessive hyperbolic use. In the mean time, if ever we feel the need to refer to a change of really considerable magnitude and import, what word should we use instead?

  1. 1  Chris  March 10, 2010, 1:31 pm 

    A friend involved in the radical part of the social democrats in Sweden told me they used a euphemism: “the big final socioeconomic reform at which no tea will be served”

  2. 2  Stan Carey  March 10, 2010, 1:45 pm 

    The word has been flattened more than most, and its popularity in breathless sales bunk might even decrease the chances of political revolution, because this just doesn’t sound exciting enough any more. For one thing, who’s know know if it will be in high definition?

    Yesterday I heard an ad in a shop for a tissue with “revolutionary absorbency”. I avoid ads as far as possible, but when exposure is unavoidable I notice the word revolution(ary) used frequently and with exemplary meaninglessness. As a replacement I propose metatransformutatanarchuprisingbigchange. That will never catch on in advertising.

  3. 3  democracy_grenade  March 10, 2010, 2:25 pm 

    But a breathless Samsung press release, apparently published by mistake as a news item in the Guardian…


    As for the question posed: “paradigm shift”? “Sea change?” Nah; they’re rubbish. Significant negative change has way better descriptors: “transmogrification”, “vitiation”, “debasement”. The thing about “revolution” is that it captures a sense of immediacy, suddeness and irrevokability that no alternative (that I am aware of) can match. It also, rather obviously, receives significant cache (along with distinctly ambivalent connotations) from political events with which it is associated.

    People doing PR for this technology really need to effect saturation of the phrase “3D television” to the point where they can just truncate it to “3D”, though. Placing “revolution” after “television” is yucky.

  4. 4  ukliberty  March 10, 2010, 3:21 pm 

    I’m surprised there are only 58,300 hits on Google for “groundbreaking and revolutionary”, a phrase that was clapped out well over a decade ago.

  5. 5  sw  March 10, 2010, 5:37 pm 

    I got “about 265,000” for the same phrase? (Not that I fact-check everything on . . .)

  6. 6  Steven  March 10, 2010, 6:27 pm 

    I wish you would.

  7. 7  hellblazer  March 11, 2010, 4:36 am 

    At the risk of not meeting the exalted standards of this blog, can’t resist linking to some Pratchett wordplay. (The relevant quote sounds like it should have been coined by someone else, but I can’t think where.)

  8. 8  ukliberty  March 12, 2010, 10:48 am 

    Insurgent seems an apposite word for these troublous* times.

    * With thanks to one D. Aaronovitch, the new Brian Sewell.

  9. 9  Karl Naylor  March 14, 2010, 4:22 pm 

    Excellent blog. The word “revolution” is now applied to any transformation but most insidiously through the idea of Benneton styled and branded “Colour Revolutions” where authoritarian populists and nationalists who control access to oil and gas are termed as “New Stalins” and “New Hitler’s” and bogus ahistorical parallells made with the “refolutions” of Central Europe in 1989-1990.

    I’d like to personally thank Steven Poole, whose book has inspired me always to look to the language when in conflict with unaccountable bureaucrats and crony capitalism in operation in my adopted home Krakow, where the rapacious lawyer and property developer Henryk Gaertner of GDK Group brags that his ability to get planning permission without hindrance of public consultation is “an exemplary realisation”.

    Gaertner also grabs sixteenth century buildings like the Palac Tarnowskich in Krakow and speaks not of “restoration” of a beautiful building but of it’s “revalorisation” into an economy class hotel. In Krakow that tends to mean sticking crappy bits of starchitectural junk onto them and expanding it in tasteless ways as most of his developments or “exemplary realisations” are built all in the most hideous taste.

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