'Historic' or "Historical': A Choice for the Ages

Rob Kyff on

Q: We have seen signs that read "Historical Site" as well as "Historic Site." Which is correct? -- S. Crowley, via email

A: If these signs refer to places that have significance in history, such as Valley Forge or the birthplace of Kim Kardashian, they should read "Historic Area." That's because "historic" means historically significant, as in "historic battle."

"Historical" is a more general term meaning related to history or occurring in history, as in, "There's a historical correlation between low interest rates and new home starts."

The difference is basically clout. Historical figures are any people who lived in the past, while historic figures are people who lived in the past AND had great significance.

Q: The man in the commercial says, "Six months ago, this woman was limited by her mobility. Then she got her scooter." I contend he should say, "She was limited by her IMmobility." Am I right or wrong? Every time I hear him say that it grates on my last remaining nerve. -- Joyce Haley, Harbor City, California

A: Gee, sorry to hear about that nerve. Take care of that last one because you never want to lose your nerve.

You're right. Surely the phrase would be better rendered as "limited by her immobility" or, assuming she's not totally immobile, perhaps "limited in her mobility."

But if you define "mobility" as "the state of one's mobility," a case could be made for using "mobility." "Mobility," like "health," "education" or "ability," can sometimes refer to a general condition, which may be deficient. For instance, you might say, "She is limited by her health (or education or ability)," meaning she has deficits in these areas.


Q: What do you think of the new trend of using "fun" as an adjective? I don't mind hearing sentences such as "That's a fun place," but when I see ads promoting ski resorts saying, "It's funner" and "Come to us for the funnest weekend," I see red!!! -- Dorothy Walker, Nashua, New Hampshire

A: And ski resorts see green.

"Fun" is slowly making the transition from a caterpillar noun to a butterfly adjective. True, the use of "fun" as an adjective ("We had a fun time") has slowly crept into standard English during the last 20 years.

But "fun" has not yet sprouted its true adjectival wings, so its comparative forms "funner" and "funnest" still sound strange. For now, "funner" and "funnest" are still gimmicky and attention-grabbing. Let's hope these caterpillars stay in their cocoons a while longer -- at least until ski season ends.


Rob Kyff, a teacher and writer in West Hartford, Connecticut, invites your language sightings. His new book, "Mark My Words," is available for $9.99 on Send your reports of misuse and abuse, as well as examples of good writing, via email to or by regular mail to Rob Kyff, Creators Syndicate, 737 3rd Street, Hermosa Beach, CA 90254.

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