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Watershed election, experience

Posted by ESC on July 04, 2006

In Reply to: Watershed posted by Bob on July 04, 2006

: : question: Iam trying to find the full meaning and origin of the phrase a "watershed experience". I have found very little on the internet,perhaps because I don't know how to use it but most phrase meaning sites do not have this phrase or are user unfriendly or only supply a short bit such as 'a defining experience'. That isn't what I looking for-iwant a more complete explanation. thank you

: It seems clear that you're really looking for a definition of the word watershed, which would clarify the phrase. Here's one from
: wa·ter·shed Pronunciation Key (wôtr-shd, wtr-)
: n.
: A ridge of high land dividing two areas that are drained by different river systems. Also called water parting.
: The region draining into a river, river system, or other body of water.
: A critical point that marks a division or a change of course; a turning point: "a watershed in modern American history, a time that... forever changed American social attitudes" (Robert Reinhold).

There is a HUGE entry in "Safire's New Political Dictionary" by William Safire (Random House, New York, 1993). (Pages 860-862) on the following:

WATERSHED ELECTION -- "a campaign that decides the course of politics for decades; one that is especially memorable, or that proves to be a dividing line between historical periods."

"The political meaning comes from both the nourishing meaning (of the vital water-holding uplands) and the epochal meaning (a line between two areas, or a moment between two eras).

The political meaning seems to date back to the 1960s. "Biographer Leo Katcher: 'The University of California was one of the great watersheds of experience for Earl Warren.' Times of London headline, 1965: 'Parliament at a Watershed.'"

And so forth. Hope this helps.