Problematic Words

Here is a short extract from the diaries of Virginia Woolf (she is talking about shortages towards the end of World War I):

We have cards for most foods. The only abundant shop windows are the drapers. Other shops parade tins, or cardboard boxes, doubtless empty. (This is an attempt at the concise, historic style.)

Far be it from me to pick fault with a writer of Virginia Woolf’s stature. I may have misinterpreted her meaning, and to be fair she was presumably only writing for private consumption anyway. But I think she was mixing up, as many do, historic and historical.

Historic means of landmark significance, such as a historic battle or piece of legislation. But it doesn’t have to be a past event. If a UFO landed in Trafalgar Square today (assuming it could find somewhere to park) it would be a historic event. Historical is more general and simply refers to the past. So my forthcoming novel Murder in Montague Place…

Buy…buy…

is historical because it’s set in the past. It will only become a historic novel when it becomes a best seller and people are talking about it for decades to come, i.e. when it’s made history.

(Whether to use a historic or an historic could make a separate entry all on its own. But briefly, there is no right or wrong and it’s a matter of choice. Personally, I see an historic, an hotel as arbitrary, Frenchified pretentiousness. But don’t let that put you off.)

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About ramblesofawriter

Writer, thinker, tea drinker.
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