ENGLISCH/813: Questions to Mrs Gobbledygook (149) classic/classical (SB)


149. What is the difference between classic and classical?

Dear Mrs Gobbledygook

...Sometimes I find it rather difficult to translate English adjectives correctly, e.g. the following pair: classic and classical. In German there is just one meaning: "klassisch". Could you explain the difference? ...

Yours sincerely

Beate Schmitt (from Berlin, Germany)


Dear Mrs Schmitt

To help you with your question, I better give you some examples of everyday's conversation in which these adjectives are used. First the word "classical". Classical means "traditional" and it is usually the opposite of the word "modern". It is used in conversational contexts like this:

"Are you enjoying the ballet?"
"Yes, for a modern ballet I think it's very good.
But I prefer classical ballet."
"Do you?"
"Yes, it's strange, because I prefer jazz and
pop music to classical music, but I like
classical ballet much better than modern."

Secondly the word classical has another meaning relating to ancient Greece and Rome.

The word "classic" also has two meanings: First, it means a very high quality. And it is often used to talk about words of art. The second meaning of classic is its use in the phrase "a classic example" or "a classic case". If something is a classic example, it means it is typical, it has all the things you would aspect. Here is "a classic example" of the two meanings of "classic" in another piece of conversation:

"I wonder, why musicals cost so much money to
make nowadays. You know, most of the
classic musicals cost very little."
"Oh no, even classic cost a lot at the time."
"Yes perhaps, but I think that the modern
production is a classic case of the more
it costs the worse it is..."

Being full of classical illusions I better stop myself from going on and on ... and I hope you got some idea how to translate the classic examples I mentioned.


Mrs Gobbledygook

3. November 2008