language corner

Adviser/Advisor; Historic/Historical

Distinctions and Differences
July 1, 2007

Some distinctions between similar words need to be maintained because they’re useful; examples abound in the archives of this font of wisdom. Here’s another: the distinction between “historic” and “historical.” In the phrase “Chile, Bolivia’s historic enemy,” the choice was unfortunate. By hoary consensus, “historic” has been reserved for events of great moment, like the Battle of Yorktown or the Emancipation Proclamation. To describe a longtime pattern, like Chilean-Bolivian enmity, or for any variation on the broad notion “relating to history,” the job is best done by “historical.” Different words for different meanings. Useful. (CJR September/October 2004)

Not at all useful is the insistence among the finicky (including this traveler at one time) that “advisor” is a misspelling, an ignorant back-formation from “advisory,” and that only “adviser” is correct. “Advisor” is ubiquitous, and it was not surprising to find “became a valued advisor” in a historical (not historic) work of impeccable pedigree. So we should pick a spelling (CJR prefers “adviser”), stay with it, and relax.

Evan Jenkins wrote the Language Corner column for CJR through the Fall of 2007.