Innovations

The June 9th NYT Magazine was an “Innovations Issue”, with pieces on the histories of devices (the Brannock Device, for measuring shoe size, the Cuisinart, the digital camera, keys, the salad spinner), products (the Band-Aid, diet soda, Liquid Paper), and sociocultural practices (brunch, the dog park, gay marriage, the nose job, prom, timeouts for children, 12-step programs) — plus a few linguistic items, notably the metaphorical idiom glass ceiling and the tv formula previously on …

In most cases of innovations (of devices, products, or sociocultural practices), there’s a substantive innovation, plus a linguistic innovation, the choice of a name or label for it: the device for washing and drying salad greens plus the synthetic compound label salad spinner; the product that covers up typing errors plus the metaphorical brand name Liquid Paper; the practice of offering and eating a late-morning meal that combines characteristics of breakfast and lunch plus the portmanteau name brunch.

On occasion, however, the referent has been around for some time but then achieves prominence when someone provides a label for it, as was apparently the case for glass ceiling.

And in still other cases, the innovation is itself linguistic, as for formulaic expressions like previously on … ‘in earlier episodes of …’

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