Professional Style

Historic vs. Historical

January 2009
Spot the Error

Today marks the historical inauguration of our country’s first African-American president.

Actually, the inauguration won’t be historical for a hundred years or so. A historical event is any occurrence in the past. And since the inauguration is occurring today, it won’t be considered a historical event until—at the very earliest—tomorrow (although I’d tack on a few years for good measure).

What’s needed in the “inauguration” sentence above is historic. Unlike a historical event, a historic event can happen at any time, but it must be of significance … something that will stand out in history.

To illustrate the difference between the two words:

The Civil War (or, if you prefer, “the War Between the States”) is a historic event; it stands out in history. However, Margaret Mitchell’s book Gone with the Wind is a historical novel; it takes place in the past.

Oh, and by the way, don’t forget that the inauguration is a historic event (not an historic event; see November 2008 issue of Professional Style).

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