Word of the Day: new
“There is nothing new under the sun,” said the Preacher. “Get your New and Improved Crest Toothpaste, with stannous fluoride,” said the Huckster.
I like to point out to my students, when we’re studying ancient Rome, that those great architects of government had a nice term for revolution: res nova, a new thing. To call your political opponent an innovator was worse than to cast a shadow upon his motives. It was to condemn him outright. So it was also to call him ambitiosus: a man who literally goes around, all the time, canvassing for votes. That was why Augustus Caesar, an innovator if there ever was one, had to cast his innovations as attempts to restore good old traditional Roman mores; and he, like many another politician ancient and modern, probably fell for his own rhetoric.
Our word is related to Latin novus, but it comes from the Germanic stock (cf. German neu), as Welsh newydd comes from the Celtic stock . . . It is an old old word, this new, and shows up relatively unchanged across the wide range of Indo-European languages. Even its substantive sense, as in English news, is ancient. News is not news.
I am constitutionally suspicious of new things. Children like new presents, but not new schools, new neighborhoods, new houses, new rules, or new parents. People grow misty-eyed when they visit the old homestead, but when once that building is torn down, they don’t even want to go look at the place where it was. There’s often a sweet sadness in visiting a cemetery. That is because the cemetery is old, and isn’t going anywhere. A New and Improved cemetery would seem like a betrayal of trust, if not downright ghastly.
And yet here we are, coming to the close of a year, with a rather arbitrary flip of the calendar, and a few million people in Times Square will be forgetting their auld acquaintance but not their liquor, celebrating the spanking new page in January. It will be commemorated by garish “entertainers” whose names I’ve never heard of, but here I believe I’m ahead of the times rather than behind them, since in a few additional flips of the calendar no one else will have heard of them, either. It is strange.
Strange, I say, since there actually is something new in the world, that some of us continue to celebrate at this time. The grace of God is the only real renovator, the only thing in the dreary mechanical rounds of sin and folly that can bring freshness again. Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given; and they shall call him Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. “Behold,” says the One seated upon the throne, “I make all things new.”