Joe Biden’s inauguration: historical or historic?

Congratulations to President Joe Biden. After the embarrassing treatment that America, the God’s own country, got during its recent presidential election, the siege was finally over on January 20, 2021, when the venerable old man was sworn in.

As the world continue to rejoice with Biden and his people, however, we want to discuss a grammatical dilemma that some people face as they try to describe his ascension. Some have described it as historic, others said historical. What then is the difference between the two words, and which is suitable for the context?

Although both are homonyms and adjectives, their meanings and uses are different. A homonym is a word that sounds like or is spelt as another word, but has a different meaning (like where and were). On the other hand, an adjective is a word that qualifies or describes a noun.

By ‘historical’, we mean something connecting to or representing things from the past or history. So, we can have historical documents, historical materials, historical movies, historical plays etc. On the other hand, ‘historic’ refers to someone, something or a moment that is (or was) important in history or one that has the potential to be so important. In other words, ‘historic’ describes things that are symbolic to or phenomenal in history:

The rain damaged a lot of historical documents in the arena.

She enjoys watching historical films.


Fela was a historic musician.

Messi’s second goal is historic.

The question, therefore, is: which do we employ to describe the election and inauguration of Biden as the American President? Definitely ‘historic’:

The Wednesday’s inauguration as the US President was a historical moment for Joe Biden. (Wrong)

The Tuesday’s inauguration of Joe Biden as the US President was a historic moment for Joe Biden. (Correct)

Outset vs onset 

Two other words you should be smart at handling are outset and onset. Their meanings are similar but are not the same.

Outset refers to the start or beginning of something.  Onset also indicates the beginning of something, but this is often something unpleasant:

I told my friend at the outset that the programme will end on Friday.

From the outset, she spelt out the processes involved and how much we are likely to make.

They arrived at the onset of the tribal war.

From the onset of the crisis, the police have been rather too slow.

Many countries anticipated the onset of coronavirus.

Incident or incidence?

You must watch the way you use ‘incident’ and ‘incidence’ too. Many believe they mean the same thing and thus especially use the latter where the first should appear.

As we established in this class some three years ago, ‘incidence’, in most cases, does not mean an occurrence or happening, which is what an incident refers to. It means the rate at which something happens. That is why the two sentences below are problematic:

The incidence happened last week.

Some people were attacked during the incidence.

The right word in both cases is ‘incident’.

Consider these CORRECT and balanced statements too:

The incidence of herdsmen attacks in Ibarapa is high.

Robbery incidence is also alarming.

During the incident, the youths challenged the monarch.

Two women fought dirty in Sasa yesterday. The incident led to the closure of the market.

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