Historic or Historical?

Grammarly–useful for editing, fascinating for details!

I downloaded the app and began using Grammarly to make punctuation and spell-checking more efficient.  If it tells me I need a comma, I either decide it’s correct and tough the button to add it, or I think, “No, you didn’t understand the construction of that sentence,” and tell it “ignore.”

The “possibly confused word” tags sometimes save me from embarrassing mistakes and sometimes teaches me the nuances of definitions.  Did you know that “historic” and “historical” have specialized meanings?  I titled a chapter “The Historic Context,” and Grammarly informed me that: “The word Historic may be used incorrectly. Review the following notes to determine the appropriate usage for your context.”

  1. Historic is an adjective that describes something important, significant or notable in history.
  2. Historical is adjective that describes something concerning history or past events. These are events of less significance than historic events.

Perhaps the second definition fits the chapter title best because when history is the background or context for Grandpa’s actions, the events may not be significant, just whatever happened to be going on.  It’s historical that he attended the University of Iowa and that he worked on his father’s ranch, but there’s nothing notable about that as far as you and I are concerned.

Or the first definition is better because the building of the Panama Canal, certainly a significant American achievement, is the reason my mother was born in Panama.  On the other hand, my mother’s birth didn’t change history, but the Canal did, so it depends on whether the adjective is applied to baby Ruth or the Canal construction.

How did I decide?  The chapter title sounds better with “historic.”  Adding -al seems either affected or too much like hysterical.

The usage may be more important in  complete sentences:

  • “The Panama Canal was a historic achievement.”  Okay–definitely right.
  • “The historical background for my mother’s birth in Panama was not only the need for surveyors to lay out railroad track and buildings there, but the liberal vacation policy which gave Grandpa time to visit home and meet Linnie Coon.”  Probably the better choice.

I can’t use “historic” again without thinking.  Thanks, Grammarly!

Been there? Done that? Read the book? What do you think?