historic, historical
Both words are used to mean ‘of or concerning history, belonging to the past rather than the present’, but historical is the more objective word denoting something that happened in the past, whereas historic describes not simply what belongs to the past but what has an important role in the past, i.e. it means ‘famous or important with regard to history’. A historical treaty is one that took place (as opposed to one that is fictitious); a historic treaty is one that is of great importance in history (as opposed to one that is insignificant). Historic is often used with reference to buildings and monuments:

• The president of the Historic Houses Association…plays down too much euphoria over the Chancellor's proposed substitution of inheritance tax for capital transfer tax —Daily Telegraph, 1986

• After visiting the Hayward Gallery I spent a half-hour just gazing along the river line, the historic buildings sharp in the clear, cold, sunny air —D. M. Thomas, 1990.

When the meanings are confused, it is usually historic that is used when historical would be more appropriate:

• Extinct volcanoes are those that have not erupted in historic time, whereas active volcanoes have been seen to erupt —M. A. Summerfield, 1991

• It may involve the use of relevant historic documents —R. Brooks, 1993.

Modern English usage. 2014.

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • historic — historic, historical are sometimes distinguished in meaning. Historic is used when the idea of association with history in the sense of being celebrated, well known, or deserving to be well known is stressed {we shall visit many historic spots on …   New Dictionary of Synonyms

  • historic — his*tor ic (h[i^]s*t[o^]r [i^]k), historical his*tor ic*al (h[i^]s*t[o^]r [i^]*kal), a. [L. historicus, Gr. istoriko s: cf. F. historique. See {History}.] Of or pertaining to history, or the record of past events; as, an historical poem; the… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • historic — 1660s, probably a back formation from HISTORICAL (Cf. historical), perhaps influenced by Fr. historique. What is historic is noted or celebrated in history; what is historical deals with history …   Etymology dictionary

  • historic — [his tôr′ik, histär′ik] adj. [L historicus < Gr historikos] 1. having, or likely to have, lasting significance or importance [a historic occasion] 2. Now Rare HISTORICAL …   English World dictionary

  • historic — index traditional Burton s Legal Thesaurus. William C. Burton. 2006 …   Law dictionary

  • historic — [adj] momentous, remarkable celebrated, consequential, extraordinary, famous, important, memorable, notable, outstanding, red letter*, significant, well known; concepts 548,568 Ant. unimportant, unremarkable …   New thesaurus

  • historic — ► ADJECTIVE 1) famous or important in history, or potentially so. 2) Grammar (of a tense) used in relating past events …   English terms dictionary

  • historic — adjective the historic first flight at Kitty Hawk Syn: significant, notable, important, momentous, consequential, memorable, newsworthy, unforgettable, remarkable; famous, famed, celebrated, renowned, legendary; landmark, sensational,… …   Thesaurus of popular words

  • historic — his|tor|ic [hıˈstɔrık US ˈsto: , ˈsta: ] adj [usually before noun] 1.) a historic place or building is very old ▪ the restoration of historic buildings ▪ ancient historic sites ▪ our historic monuments 2.) a historic event or act is very… …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • historic */*/ — UK [hɪˈstɒrɪk] / US [hɪˈstɔrɪk] adjective 1) a) a historic place is important because it is old and interesting or impressive the historic city of York areas of special architectural or historic interest historic monument/building: Tourists like… …   English dictionary

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