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Classic or classical?

Ancient GreeceIf something is of the highest class of its type, suggesting or establishing a standard, then it’s classic: Fawlty Towers –– the classic British comedy. Similarly, a classic novel is one that’s become part of the canon (or recognised list of masterpieces) of serious literature, and a book like Great Expectations is a classic ––– it ranks among the classics of English Literature. When it comes to cars, definitions vary, but generally speaking, especially in the US, classic cars are ‘fine or unusual motor cars’ built between about 1920 and 1960. The British reserve the term for those built after about 1945. Cars built before 1916 are veteran cars (UK) or antique cars (US), while cars built after 1916 and before about 1945 are called vintage cars (UK). There’s nothing special about a classic error, a classic example, or a classic pattern, however: it’s simply archetypical.

Classical is most often used in relation to serious music (Mozart is a classical composer, for instance). It’s also the adjective used to describe things belonging to or derived from Ancient Greece and Rome, which is often referred to as the Classical World or Classical Antiquity (usually with capitals). Latin and Ancient Greek (or Classical Greek) are known as the Classical languages. In a university context, this may be shortened to Classics: John read Classics at Cambridge, for instance, means ‘John studied Latin and Greek (and possibly Ancient History) at Cambridge’. Classical Arabic, on the other hand, is the language of the Koran. It is still used in official contexts in Arab countries, as opposed to colloquial Arabic, which varies from country to country.

©2014 Baxter Publishing, Hilversum, The Netherlands

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