Wednesday, July 1, 2015

I do not think it means what you think it means

I saw a news clip today of the First Lady telling Girl Scouts that they were "making history" by being "the first to camp out on the South Lawn of the White House."

Newscasters also said that a severe thunderstorm soon forced those Girl Scouts to seek shelter in the Executive Office Building, but I'm more interested in what Michelle Obama calls "historic," because the action she praised seems trivial.

Doesn't something have to be significant before it can be called historic?

Etymology is not something I have any particular expertise in, but I've always thought of "historic" and "heroic" as sibling words.

Was spotlighting the White House in multi-colored light to celebrate a Supreme Court ruling also "historic"? I hope not, because it's easier to make a case for calling that stunt "ill-advised" or "juvenile."

Let me put the question a little differently: The  boys in my senior class were, as far as I know, the first to wear turquoise tuxedos and ruffled shirts for our high school yearbook photos, but that does not make our wardrobe choice "historic." What it means is that someone in school administration at the time got a superlative discount from a local formal wear shop whose proprietor was nostalgic for the Seventies.

A distant bell of memory sent me to Wikipedia to see what it had to say about Andrew Jackson's first inauguration. While accounts of the debauchery around that event seem inconclusive, there is evidence to suggest that Mrs. Obama may have been wrong not only for confusing the mundane with the historic (her husband does that, too), but also for ignoring what happened 1829. Ten thousand people came to Washington, D.C. that March to see Andrew Jackson sworn in as president, and a good number of them seem to have partied all over the place, very possibly camping on the White House lawn. In a few well-documented cases, they passed out on that lawn.

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