This morning, in a New York Times article called “Waters Warm, and Cod Catch Ebbs in Maine,” the following sentence appears:
Fishermen, scientists and regulators often disagree over whether the current changes are temporary or the new normal.
The idiom (or cliché) “the new normal”—in the sense of the new standard of baseline expectation or experience—has occurred fairly frequently in the past ten to fifteen years, including in book titles such as The New Normal: How FDNY Firefighters Are Rising to the Challenge of Life After September 11 (2002), Assessing the New Normal: Liberty and Security for the Post–September 11 United States (January 30, 2003), After 911 in the ‘New’ Normal: Who Are We? Why Are We Here? Where Are Going? (February 1, 2003), and The New Normal: Living a Fear-Free Life in a Fear-Driven World (2005).
In her foreword to John Putzier, Weirdos in the Workplace: The New Normal—Thriving in the Age of the Individual (2004), Libby Sartain claims that the phrase “the new normal” is a recent coinage:
According to Roger McNamee, who coined the term, the new normal is a time of substantial possibilities if you are willing to play by the new rules for the long term. In the new normal it is more important to do things right than to succumb to the tyranny of urgency.
Roger McNamee, “a tech investor,” figures heavily in an article by Polly LaBarre titled “The New Normal” in Fast Company magazine (April 30, 2003), where he is quoted at length:
“Forget about the Next Big Thing,” he says. “The next thing has started. It’s called the New Normal, and 2003 will be the first full; year of it. The New Normal isn’t where you wait for the next boom. It’s about the rest of your life.”
(Or at least about the rest of your life until the next boom busts—five years later, in 2008, as it turned out.) In any event, McNamee eventually produced a book called The New Normal: Great Opportunities in a Time of Great Risk (2004), which presumably expatiates on the theme of new normality at salesworthy length.
But given that at least three books focusing on the aftermath of September 11, 2001, and using the phrase “The New Normal” in their titles had been published before the May issue of Fast Company reached newsstands—and more than 18 months before McNamee’s book came out—his claim to have coined the phrase in connection with the post–New Economy is debatable; it seems just as likely that he hitched his ideas to a phrase that was already in wide circulation following the World Trade Center bombings.
A search of Google Books, however, brings another surprise: In the years immediately after the end of World War I, a spate of books and articles addressed “the new normal” that was expected to emerge after that conflict. One of the earliest is from Henry Wise Wood, “Beware!” in National Electric Light Association Bulletin (December 1918):
To consider the problems before us we must divide our epoch into three periods, that of war, that of transition, that of the new normal, which undoubtedly will supersede the old. The questions before us, therefore, are, broadly, two: How shall we pass from war to the new normal with the least jar, in the shortest time? In that respect should the new normal be shaped to differ from the old?
Some contend that we should first envisage the new normal, and carve the measures of transition to suit its requirements. Others believe that we should cautiously feel our way through the period of transition, and arrive at what the new normal shall be by the road of experience. The first would attempt reconstruction by synthetic process; the second would achieve it by natural growth. Who shall say that a new normal, artificially compounded at this distance from the future, will work? Who shall say that a new normal, patiently sought through trial and error, will not work?
When did “the new normal” originally appear—not as an adjective phrase, as in “the new normal school,” “the new normal output” or “the new normal loss,” but as a freestanding phrase?
Is there a direct historical connection between the original use of “the new normal” and the use that seems to have caught on soon after September 11, 2001? That is, did the phrase remain in use continuous use between the period of its first popularity and the period of its later resurgence, or was the phrase essentially reinvented in the twenty-first century?
Is the expression traceable in either its earliest incarnation or its post-9/11 incarnation to a specific person? If so, to whom?
I am aware that an EL&U user asked What does "new normal" mean? back in December 2010. My question isn’t about what it means but when it emerged, who (if anyone) deserves credit for coining it, and whether it has emerged independently in different decades or has been in continuous use.