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HISTORIC OR HISTORICAL?

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FORUM for Historic Harvard

One of the first requirements of being a member of the Historical Commission is to know that our Commission is not historic but is historical. So, ‘HISTORIC COMMISSION’ as it is called by some is not grammatically correct. However, where a HISTORIC DISTRICT COMMISSION exists, that nomenclature is grammatically correct because all Historic Districts are historic. Here are the definitions.

Historic: 1. momentous; 2. historically significant.

Historical: 1. of or relating to history; 2. of or relating to the past.

The words were originally synonyms—with historic developing second as a shortened historical—but they began to diverge in meaning around the 18th century, and the difference has solidified over time. They are still occasionally mixed up, but the differentiation is now so well-established that using one in place of the other is likely to strike many English speakers as wrong.

Buildings, villages, districts, and landmarks deemed historically important are often described as historic because they are historically significant in addition to being of or related to history. Societies dedicated to recognizing and preserving these things are called historical societies because they are concerned with history but not momentous in themselves.
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We hear some speak of the ‘Harvard Historic Commission’ or the ‘Harvard Historic Society’, or, that the Harvard Town Hall is a historical building. Both are wrong in usage and grammar.
Some organizations, buildings, villages, persons, things, events, etc., are described as historic because they played an important role in  history. The keyword is ‘important’.

Other organizations, villages, persons, things, etc., are described as historical because they have to do with history but did not play an important role in history.

Saying that a home or a place or an asset or a landmark is historic means that it played an important role in history. Our Commission works to preserve historic assets and resources, but did not play play an important role in our history. So, we call it a Historical Commission. Armstrong’s walk on the moon was a historic event. It was an event important to our history. The Alamo is a historic building; but the ‘Grapes of Wrath’ which told of the Dust Bowl days in America is a historical novel.

To summarize, ‘historical is an adjective that is applied to something that has to do with history but did not play an important role in history; while ‘historic’ is an adjective that is applied to some thing that played an important role in our history.

Historic is a word which implies judgment, since by definition it describes something significant. But . . . historical is an essentially neutral term, describing anything which has to do with the past.”

Okay, enough. Let’s get back to work.

From Grammarist.com

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