There was a time when companies would simply adapt to new challenges, people would leave one job for another and organisations would introduce a change to regulations without being pretentious about it. Nowadays, however, many companies, people and organisations say they reinvent themselves.
We’ve all encountered the metaphor to reinvent the wheel, which is about wasting time or effort in building something that already exists. As it has already been invented, an attempt to reinvent it would be pointless.
But the verb reinvent has taken on a new meaning to reflect a radically new approach to a challenge or a change of lifestyle. That’s fine. The English language evolves, except the verb sounds a bit affected and has become a cliché best avoided.
The first time I stumbled on this new meaning of the expression was in the late 1990s when I worked as a correspondent for Reuters in continental Europe. It was during the dot.com boom when companies adapting to the Internet were increasingly described in press releases and news stories as having reinvented themselves.
Today you’ll find the cliché itself being misused by people who don’t seem to understand what it means. I’ve got an example from the official Formula One race car website where someone wrote about the start of the season in Melbourne this weekend. After listing the favourites to win the F1 championship, the writer suggested that a number of promising rookies “underline the sport’s ability to keep re-inventing [sic] itself”.
What’s that supposed to mean? F1 has been around since 1950. Drivers have died in crashes while racing or, as is mostly the case nowadays, simply retired and have gradually been replaced by new, younger drivers. The fact that a few rookies are entering the grid this season doesn’t mean the F1 is undergoing a radical change. It means business as usual.
I could give you more examples, but I don’t want to bore you with a litany.
I welcome your comments.