Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

Changing History

Posted by Neal on November 30, 2013

So, about that news-related idea for a post that my mother had last week

Another of the reporters talking about the Kennedy assassination said something along the lines of:

Fifty years ago today, Lee Harvey Oswald changed history.

Mom’s observation (eagerly seconded by Dad): No, he didn’t. You can’t change history unless you have a time machine, and even then you can’t do it unless we’re living in a Back to the Future-style universe instead of an Anubis Gates-style universe.

That last observation was my contribution to the conversation. Mom’s complaint has occurred to me before, when I’ve heard the phrase. I haven’t blogged about it, because all I’ve had to say about it is what I just said. I would have categorized it under “You’re so literal!” and said how in contexts outside of science fiction and theoretical physics, change history is shorthand for change the course of history.

Now that I think about it, though, why should <I>change the course of history</i> get any closer to the desired meaning than change history? Isn’t that just shorthand for something like change the course of how future history would most likely have turned out, had you not intervened? Or to put it more concisely, make history? So, change history, make history, synonyms.

But one video put this topic on my to-be-blogged list, where it was then kicked to the top by Mom’s observation. The video, sent to me by my Uncle Ricky, is about the Boeing CHAMP missiles, which are designed to use a microwave pulse to disable all electronics in a target area. It’s about a successful test flight in Utah last August. “Today we made science fiction science fact,” said Keith Coleman, the CHAMP program manager. At the end of the video, the narrator says that Boeing and Air Force researchers

… are now analyzing data and telemetry from this flight, which not only made history, but stands to change it as well.

What? Not only … but … what do they mean? I think this commenter on the article got it right:

Sorry, I must’ve missed the bit describing its time travel abilities.  Bloody reporters speaking out of their a*se!

BTTF timeline by mysticalpha

BTTF timeline by mysticalpha

One Response to “Changing History”

  1. Hao Ye said

    Your parents seem pretty awesome. Also, I just had Anubis Gates recommended to me by a friend, so seeing it mentioned here is bumping it to the top of my to-read list. 🙂

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