March 2009 Vol. 14 Issue 1
Grammar Trap: historic vs. historical

Recent events have made us very conscious of the fact that we are making history.

But are we witnessing historic events or historical events?

My Associated Press Stylebook offers a very simple answer: “A historic event is an important occurrence, one that stands out in history. Any occurrence in the past is a historical event.”

In short, the surrender of Robert E. Lee at Appomattox is a historic event. What people were doing around the courthouse may be of some historical interest.

One source I found offers a helpful mnemonic device: “it ‘al’ happened in the past.”

So does the same rule apply to other common -ic vs. -ical problems (for example, economic vs. economical, logic vs. logical, electric vs. electrical, etc.)?
Unfortunately, no common rule exists, so it appears that this historical debate over suffixes will continue for some time.

Kevin Leigh Smith, kevlsmith@purdue.edu

Do you have a Grammar Trap idea? Do you want On Target to cover a topic that interests you? E-mail your ideas to Kevin Leigh Smith.