I assume the words classic and classical have a basis in the word class — which is to say, of a category. Why do we use those words to mean old or historically important?

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    From "so good as to define the class as a whole; exemplary; categorical" to "the best of something" to "things which have or will stand the test of time" to "things which have been around a while"" to "the original (but now outdated) thing".
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Jun 1, 2016 at 18:11

1 Answer 1


The OED's first two definitions for classic are "Of acknowledged excellence or importance" and "of or relating to Greek and Roman antiquity in general. Now rare." The etymological notes suggests that the word came into English by borrowing from French or Latin, both of which languages used classic to refer to the Greek and Roman authors that were considered to be exemplary or "best of class".

So, I would conclude that we use the words to mean "old" because they were historically used that way. Whether they were historically used that way because 16th century scholars thought old was inherently "best" or for some other reason is a different question.

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