Europe in Search of Europeans   /   Spring 2014   /    Signifiers

Reinvent, Reinventing, Reinvention

John P. Hewitt

Universal Composition, 1937, Joaquín Torres-García (1874–1949); photograph: Philippe Migeat; Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France; © CNAC/MNAM/Dist. RMN-Grand Palais/Art Resource, NY; © copyright Alejandra, Aurelio, and Claudio Torres 2017.

The salad days of “reinvention” may have passed, but we have not seen the last of it.

The words reinvent, reinventing, and reinvention have been swimming in the linguistic sea for centuries, but it was only in the late twentieth century that they found an ecology in which they could thrive, evolve, and spread. Beginning in the late 1960s and accelerating during the next three decades, use of the words reached a peak in the mid-2000s. The combined frequencies of reinvent, reinventing, and reinvention in books published in English in the United States increased nearly five-fold from 1950 to 2009, with most of this proliferation occurring during the 1990s. People continued to “refashion,” “reconstruct,” and “rethink,” but increasingly chose to speak of “reinventing” governments, corporations, careers, themselves, and anything else within reach of their imagination.

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