Lexicon Valley: The historical present in Seinfeld and the novels of Charlotte Bronte

Lexicon Valley: The Narrative Mastery of Seinfeld’s Kramer

Lexicon Valley: The Narrative Mastery of Seinfeld’s Kramer

A show about the mysteries of English.
July 2 2012 2:42 PM

Talking About the Past in the Present Tense

Listen to Slate’s show about Seinfeld’s masterful use of a time-honored narrative technique.

Lexicon Valley has moved! Find new episodes here.


Listen to Lexicon Valley Episode No. 15: "Then Is Now, Now and Then."

Do you ever catch yourself talking about past events in the present tense? Linguists call it the “historical present,” and although it may sound like a verbal tic—or, less generously, an affectation—it’s actually an organic part of the way we tell tales. Dickens knew it. Charlotte Brontë mastered it. And Seinfeld staffer Larry Charles wrote what may be the most textbook example of it. Listen as Bob Garfield and I discuss the much-maligned, oft-abused narrative technique that, when used judiciously, adds oomph to our stories.

You'll find every Lexicon Valley episode at slate.com/lexiconvalley or in the player below:

Send your thoughts about the show to slatelexiconvalley@gmail.com.