MorphedWords: Put ‘Charisma’ on the List

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There I go–I used a NotWord.  I don’t believe morph is a verb, though the dictionary folk may have added it.  Naughty me.

The word I’m really writing about, however, is [tag]charisma[/tag], which is being bandied and thrown about a lot now that [tag]Barack Obama[/tag] is running for president.

What exactly does the word mean?

In modern NotWord usage, charisma means media darling, so it basically means nothing except the secularly anointed.  (In this sense, charisma is like our modern usage of virus and viral marketing–the phenomenon just takes off, be it person, product or idea.)

Now, ask yourself this: Does [tag]Paris Hilton[/tag] have charisma or sex appeal, or both?

Fortunately, to our rescue comes a book by the late [tag]Philip Rieff[/tag] entitled, appropriately enough, Charisma.

Mr. Rieff is famous for his perceptive social analytical tome Triumph of the Therapeutic, which I remember reading and absorbing in my college days. Therapeutic debunks the onset of Freud and modern psychological trends as being counterproductive of culture and daily living.

Charisma the book traces the word itself back to Judeo-Christian roots when it meant “divine favor.”  In other words, charisma originally meant to virtually abandon the secular world and aspire to God’s with all the incumbent obligations and commandments. One would thus have a religious aura about one.

Without going any further here, you can see how perverted our use of the word has become.

Are there broader social and cultural implications involved in this change of meaning?  Of course, there are, and you can read Charisma to find out more about them.  Meanwhile, I think you have a good general idea already.

Categories: Grammar Sucks

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