Election Season: Historic vs. Historical … or Hysterical?

abrahan_lincolnWe’re about to the end (Thank goodness!) of a historic election.

Or is it a historical election?

Or an historic / historical election?

Or maybe it’s simply hysterical?

If you’re now as confused as I am, here’s the rest of the story:

historic (adjective): famous or important in history, or potentially so; having great and lasting importance

The historic importance of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is widely recognized.
The president was pleased to see so many citizens attend the historic ceremony.
The Supreme Court has heard many historic cases.

historical (adjective): of or relating to history or past events; belonging to the past rather than the present; based on history

He has a collection of historical artifacts from the Revolutionary War.
There’s no historical data to support her claim.
Historical treasures abound at the new National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.
We historically have always followed the board meeting with dinner.

Historical also can mean showing development based on chronological order:

They provided a historical account of the battles of the Revolutionary War.

Killer Tip to help remember the difference:

One source describes historic as implying judgment, because the term deems something as significant. Historical, on the other hand, simply describes anything from or that occurred in the distant past.

And remember: a historical, not an historical

Hysterical, by the way, is defined as marked by uncontrollable, extreme emotion. Enough said.

To complete this post, there is a valid word that I don’t recall every having heard — and I don’t expect to ever use it, unless possibly in jest:

historicalness (noun), the state of having existed in the past; the quality or fact of being historical

Now you have it: the meanings and implications of historic and historical. Expand the enlightenment by sharing this post with others who might find these highly similar terms as confusing as I — and maybe some of you — did.

Kathy Watson
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Kathy Watson

Kathy has a love/hate relationship with grammar; she loves words and the punctuation that helps them make sense, yet she hates those pesky rules. A self-proclaimed ruthless editor, she prefers standard usage guidelines of The Associated Press Stylebook. Her easy-to-use Grammar for People Who Hate Rules helps people write and speak with authority and confidence. She encourages and welcomes questions and comments. (Email)

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