“Historic” or “historical”?
Ask Ms. Letters
Dear Ms. Letters,
What’s the difference between “historic” and “historical”? Would you say that, for instance, a Civil War battlefield was of “historical interest” or would you say “historic interest”? Or can they be used interchangeably?
-Student of History
No, the terms are not interchangeable, though, curiously, something can be both historical and historic. “Historic” refers to what is famous, important, or somehow decisive in history. (“The Boston Tea Party was a historic event.”) “Historic” refers simply to anything that occurred in the past-- whether it was momentous or small and inconsequential. (“The details were rendered with historical accuracy.” “The actual historical battle was not at all like the movie version.”) So, technically, anything that occurred in the Civil War is of historical interest––but a famous Civil War battlefield is undoubtedly also of “historic” interest.