" 'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean. Neither more nor less.' "
So, jumping the shark, then.
There was once a TV series called Happy Days, and the fifth season opener had the lovely Fonzie, on water skis, jumping over a shark to prove his courage.
Since then, jumping the shark has come to describe the moment when a creative enterprise, having run out of steam, tries desperately and unsuccessfully to reinvent itself.
(That episode of Happy Days was watched by over 30 million people and the series continued for nearly seven more years, but, hey, that's still what jumping the shark means.)
Frank Rich used the phrase differently during the USA's last presidential campaign. He described Candidate Obama as jumping the shark because he sported a presidential-style seal on his podium.
In this case I think Frank Rich meant jumping the gun. It would be an easy mistake to make.
But now (19/07/11) Benedict Brogan in the Daily Telegraph says: All eyes are on the big fight at Westminster, but has the hacking story jumped the shark? The European economy is collapsing round us...
Now, the words jumping the shark here don't seem to have any connection at all that I can see with the words...er...jumping the shark.
I think in this case jumping the shark might mean 'distracted us from an even more important event'.
But can it mean that? It would have turned the meaning of jumping the shark inside out, back-to-front, and topsy-turvy, as well.
And we all know what happened when Humpty Dumpty went topsy-turvy...
Words To Use Today: jumping the shark. I think we should stick with its original meaning, even though Fonzie, when he jumped the shark, clearly wasn't jumping the shark at all.