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Analysis: Inaugurals Throughout History

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Today's inaugural brings to mind many before this one. For some historical context WAMU's Morning Edition Host Matt McCleskey talked with Paul Dickson, a local historian and author of several books, including Words from the White House: Words and Phrases Coined Or Popularized by America's Presidents. You can listen to the full interview above, or here are some highlights:

On history's coldest inauguration ceremonies: "The coldest on record was probably Ronald Reagan's on Jan. 20, 1985. It was 7 degrees, and they had to move the parade into the Capital Center where the bullets played," Dickson said. "Runner-up for the coldest was March 4, 1873, Ulysses Grant, where it rose to only 16 degrees. Thousands of people left the stands or deserted the parade, it was so cold."

Notable words and phrases that have been coined by presidents, some of them during inauguration: "Thomas Jefferson set the tone when he used the term 'entangling alliances,' meaning he thought the U.S. should stay out of entangling alliances with other countries," said Dickson.

Others include Franklin D. Roosevelt's 'the only thing we have to fear is fear itself,' and the 'good neighbor policy,' Woodrow Wilson's "legalized larceny," which referred to any extra money that was taken in taxes, George W. Bush's "1,000 points of light," Dwight D. Eisenhower's "military-industrial complex."

On the significance of these phrases presidents have coined: Especially early on, said Dickson, it was extremely important. "The early presidents, it was a mission on their part, they were creating an American language, consciously," Dickson said. "When Thomas Jefferson creates the word belittle, he drives the British crazy."


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