Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Sea Change as the Earth Warms

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Sea Change as the Earth Warms

Article excerpt

Do you remember when global warming was only for crackpots? I surely do. The "greenhouse effect" used to be discussed occasionally in the science pages of newspapers but less often on the front pages.

Reports were carefully "balanced" with quotes from skeptical sources. "Maybe, but maybe not" was often the take-away message.

But last weekend, amid all the coverage of the Live Earth concerts around the world, we heard that there has been a "sea change" in attitudes. Today, global warming is an issue for rock stars and politicos. It is everywhere.

We - those of us tuned in to some extent to public discourse - know something about this kind of changing of our collective mind on this or that public topic.

But is "sea change" exactly the right term?

Onelook.com offers as its quick definition of sea change: "a profound transformation." The individual dictionary entries to which Onelook provides access, however, also include some more literal definitions: "A change caused by the sea," for instance, in the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language.

The phrase has a Shakespearean background, and no one who makes a halfway serious effort to find it will fail. It's from "The Tempest," a passage in which Ariel tells Ferdinand:

Full fathom five thy father lies:

Of his bones are coral made:

Those are pearls that were his eyes:

Nothing of him that doth fade

But doth suffer a sea-change

Into something rich and strange.

The language is wonderfully poetic, but, not to put too fine a point on it in a family newspaper, it's describing the decomposition of a corpse underwater. Is that really the metaphor we want to build on to describe major changes, particularly of public opinion?

Ah, but it's so short! Two syllables, the first stressed, to give it some oomph: a sea change. What are the alternatives, especially for a headline writer in a hurry? …

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