Preservation Grammar: Historic v. Historical

This post originally appeared on Preservation in Pink, thanks to them for allowing us to share.

The grammar topic for today: When it is correct to use “historic” or “historical”?

How often do you come across “historical preservation” as opposed to “historic preservation?” I see this quite often, whether casually or in presentations. If you consider the laws and the basis for the field, the proper term is “historic” not “historical”. For all other purposes, what’s the difference?I found the best explanation I’ve seen so far via Grammar Girl.

You can read Grammar Girl’s response or listen to the podcast about Historic v. Historicalhere. In brief, historic is something significant to our past whereas historical is something that is old and not necessarily important. If you think back to the Old House v. Historic Housediscussion, you’ll recall that historic means significant. Significant means that a building, structure, object, district or site is eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. Old is simply old and not important or significant.

Now, how to remember this? From Grammar Girl:

William Safire said something that might help you remember the difference: “Any past event is historical, but only the most memorable ones are historic” (3). I’ve also created an odd memory trick to help you: You can remember the meanings of these two words by thinking that “ic” is “important,” and they both start with i, and “al” is “all in the past,” and those both start with a.

Why does this matter? Should you correct people who say historical preservation as opposed to historic preservation? (You should if it’s an appropriate occasion only.) Think of it this way: historical preservation leans toward the stereotype of “saving everything” as opposed to preserving, documenting, incorporating the significant (i.e. historic) elements of the past.

What do you think?

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