Historic or historical?

15 Jun

There is quite a lot of confusion about this pair, with them being used pretty interchangeably. But, as is often the case, there is a distinction and there is a rule, and it’s nice to maintain those separate meanings and subtle points of difference. Isn’t it?

Historic, or, for that matter, geographic, pinpoints a particular time or example. So historic means famous or important in history: a historic event. “The historic moment when the Titanic sank”. Similarly, geographic refers to a specific thing, a specific point to do with geography: the geographic north pole.

Historical, on the other hand, is a more general term, getting across the idea of something as concerning history, for instance, historical evidence. It also means “belonging to or set in the past”, so a “historical re-enactment”. And geographical means concerning geography, so you have a Geographical Society.

“Historical evidence points to this historic event being a turning point in the War.”

“The Geographical Society undertook an expedition to the Geographic North Pole.”

You can find more troublesome pairs here and the index to them all so far is here.


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