Monday, January 19, 2009

It's Historical? (C'mon Oprah!)

In the promotional spots for the shows Oprah will be hosting from Washington DC in honor of the Inauguration of Barack Obama, she has been shouting "It's historical!" Now, she is not the only person who has made this mistake. I heard DC mayor Adrian Fenty say it, as well as too many local newscasters to count.

It's historic. That's what you mean, people.

I suppose I might understand the confusion, if you were reading the words, or even writing them, perhaps. Historic and historical are both adjectives and they both have to do with history. But I don't quite understand how, once you've said it out loud, you don't hear the error. Doesn't it sound wrong to your ear? Would you go visit an historical home? Or an historic home?

An historical event, when you get right down to it, is anything that has happened in the past. The typing of this sentence now qualifies as a historical event, because it was an event, and it happened in the past. The typing of that sentence, however, is not destined to be remembered by history. It was not an historic event. An historic event is when the tide of history changes, when something dramatic, lasting, and important happens. The signing of the Declaration of Independence was an historic event. The bombing of Pearl Harbor. The assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Or September 11, 2001.

An historic event is one we look back on, as the marker, the turning point, the beginning of a new era, a new way of looking at the world, of being in the world. So, the Inauguration of Barack Obama will be a historical event, in the sense that it will take place in a certain moment in time, and that moment will pass into history. It will be an historic event because it will be the first time an African-American man has taken the Presidential Oath of Office, and it will be remembered in history for that. But maybe, just maybe, it will become an historic moment because it will mark a turning point in our country's history, as we turn away from the course we have been on the last eight years and embark on a new way of looking at, and being in, the world.


  1. Brilliantly said! I have heard that mistake also.

  2. Wow, very interesting...I like the point you're making here, great comments!


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