Pivoting Around Words

I should start a new category here, for word-use. In fact, having written that, I just have: language (hopefully that link will work once I publish this).

Today I want to talk about the word “pivot.” As you know, pivot has come, over the last few years, to mean change direction, especially in a political context. A recent example from the New Yorker: Don’t Be Fooled. Donald Trump Didn’t Pivot.

It sort of makes sense, but like many knew usages, I can’t help but wonder why it has come into this use.

And for this one I also can’t help but wonder to what extent Friends is responsible.

You’ll know the episode I’m thinking of, if you’ve seen it: Ross is moving in to a new apartment, and being too cheap to pay the delivery charge, ropes Rachel in to help him move a sofa. Inevitably they get stuck on the stairs, and he keeps shouting at her, “Pivot! Pivot!” to try to get her to turn the sofa in an unspecified direction.

Of course, he might have been using it quite precisely: the sofa probably needed to rotate about a fixed point, which is what “pivot” originally meant.

What it has come to mean, in politics, is a change of direction less than a U-turn (or flip-flop); but still quite a substantial one. I suppose it has a sense of turning without moving forward at the same time. Though I may be overthinking it there. It’s quite descriptive, but it seems like it has becoming ubiquitous incredibly quickly; and is already practically a cliche.

Of course that’s just my view of the optics of the thing.