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OnWords: Transition



We get to hear the word “transition” a lot during this season, as we move from summer to fall, and fall to winter. If nothing else, the political scene seems to be making up for any transitions the weather has failed to deliver. But “transition” has gathered a remarkable amount of baggage for a fairly technical, Latinate word.

 We associate it not just with movements in political power, but with changes in gender identity and career.

It’s almost as if we’re hiding behind its bloodlessness to distract people from what’s really going on.

A former colleague described the end of his teaching career not as a well-deserved retirement but as a transition. He associated “retirement” with inaction and “transition” with moving into something new. So why didn’t he use a more active, hopeful word, like “renewal” or “renaissance”?

Maybe “transition” drew attention to what it was not, which was an ending, an ending too terrible to contemplate.

We’re more reassured by a term like “peaceful transition of power” than by a victory or loss of our particular political persuasion. If it’s a transition, whatever we’ve transitioned away from is still in play, and we can always transition back. In its very technicality, in its neutrality, “transition” says more than more emotionally charged words could say.

Maybe we “transition” to remain peaceful when our souls want nothing more than to cry out at the horrors of constant change.

Lael Ewy is a co-founder and editor of EastWesterly Review, a journal of literary satire at www.postmodernvillage.com, and a writer whose work has appeared in such venues as Denver Quarterly and New Orleans Review and has been anthologized in Troubles Swapped for Something Fresh.