A little post-election footnote: I’ve been hearing chatter in which Barack Obama’s election as the first African American president of the United States is characterized as historical, rather than historic. Anyone else?
Grammarphobia observes, “If something has a place in history, it’s historic. If something has to do with the subject of history, it’s historical,” but also mentions, “Despite the traditional distinction between “historic” and “historical,” the two words are often used interchangeably these days. In fact, The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language now accepts ‘historical’ as a secondary meaning of ‘historic.'”
Grammar Girl offers, “’Historic’ is an adjective that means something important or influential in history.” and “’Historical,’ on the other hand, is an adjective that refers to anything from the past, important or not.” (She also discusses whether to use a historic or an historic, but that’s another story.)
Upon going direct to some of the usage guides, The Columbia Guide to Standard American English reveals, “Historic means generally ‘important in history,’ as in It was a [an] historic occasion of great significance; historical means ‘about history, relating to history,’ as in Historical novels are my favorite reading, and ‘in chronological order,’ as in Historical linguistics traces languages over time. But historical too is occasionally used to mean ‘important in history,’ so sometimes you will find both a [an] historical occasion and a [an] historic occasion. Best advice: try to maintain the distinction between historic and historical.”
The American Heritage Book of English Usage opines, “Historic and historical have different usages though their senses overlap. Historic refers to what is important in history. . . . It is also used of what is famous or interesting because of its association with persons or events in history: a historic house. Historical refers to whatever existed in the past, whether regarded as important or not: a minor historical character. Historical also refers to anything concerned with history or the study of the past: a historical novel, historical discoveries. While these distinctions are useful, don’t be surprised if you see these words used interchangeably, as in historic times or historical times.”
So historic and historical, interchangeable or not? Slight overlap okay or under no circumstances whatsoever?