We owe it to future generations to preserve our history
This is an entry in the Saturday series of Timeless & Timely called “Off the Clock.” A newsletter for word nerds.
“We are all part of a larger stream of events, past, present, and future. We are all the beneficiaries of those who went before us.” — David McCullough, 1998
Regular readers of this newsletter are aware of my fondness for history.
So this week, with the National Archives and Records Administration in the news, I thought we should spend time there. 1
While the Smithsonian Museum has been called the “Nation’s Attic,” it stores and displays items of cultural significance to the United States.
But the National Archives is an official repository — a government agency responsible for the documentation and preservation of government and historical records.
The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, President Ronald Reagan’s speech card from remarks made in Berlin, Germany in June 1987. The arrest warrant for Lee Harvey Oswald.
These are just some of the artifacts you’ll find inside of the National Archives in Washington, DC.
But step outside, and there’s something even more impressive: four statues that tower nearly 25 feet above ground: Past, Future, Heritage, and Guardianship — personifications of the role that the National Archives plays.
These icons sit silently, sentinels of institutional memory that guard against the inexorable march of time.
Beneath each, carved into stone, is a quote:
“Study the past.”
“The past is prologue.”
“Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”
“The heritage of the past is the seed that brings forth the harvest of the future.”
Reminders that without necessary steps to preserve and understand our past, our future is uncertain.
Guardians of the Grammar
It’s not surprising that the National Archives is a guardian of grammar as well.
NARA documents writing tips from the Federal Register, with a list of phrases to avoid and single words that should replace them.
Beyond suggesting words to choose, NARA’s Plain Writing Tips have a Department of Redundancy Department (you can say that again!) to remind us of words to avoid.
They provided some examples in the wake of reports of severe weather, but these apply to all writers, not just meteorologists:
It’s all just planning.
Forecast for the future
Forecast, by definition, means to look ahead in time.
Predict in advance
Predictions are always made in advance of an event.
“Completely” doesn’t add anything.
If you're being warned, you’re getting word before something happens.
If it’s essential, it’s necessary. Period.
If you have experienced something, it happened in the past.
“Unique” means one of a kind. There are no degrees of uniqueness.
If you’d like a more comprehensive look, take a look at NARA’s Style Guide.
Writing is thinking. To write well is to think clearly.
And that’s a skill that ought to be preserved.