I have been checking the differences in dictionaries and forums and I cannot find any final conclusion.

I get that:

  • Mystic/Mystical are both valid adjectives
  • Mystic is the only one that can be used as a noun

But I'd like to know if the usage and feeling you get from "a mystic/mystical person" vs "a mystic/mystical place" is exactly the same or not. I don't believe in true synonyms, that's the reason I ask.

I'm asking details like: it sounds better, more archaic/modern, less common, more mysterious or magical, usual in certain context/countries, etc. As I cannot get that kind of 'accuracy' from any dictionary, just from a native speaker.

https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/mystic_1 https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/mystical


2 Answers 2


The SOED does not take those two adjectives as synonyms.

(SOED) mystic
4. Of hidden meaning or nature; enigmatic, mysterious.
5. Inspiring an awed sense of mystery.

(SOED) mystical
4. Of or pertaining to mysterious or occult rites and practices.

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From the above ngram it appears that among persons wrapped in mystery there are many more reckoned to be so as relates to their practices or the rites they perform, and are thus spoken of a being mystical. On the contrary, a mystic person will inspire a sense of mystery through the bias of mere appearance, language, thinking.

  • Meanwhile, the etymologies of "mystic" and "mystical" are almost the reverse of that. MW.com lists 1st definition of "mystic" as ": mystical sense 1a" and 3rd entry for "mystical" is "3a : mystic sense 2, 3b : mystic sense 3." Macmillan and Cambridge have a combined entry for both as variations of the same word with the primary entry as "mystical." Jun 22, 2021 at 15:19
  • @GArthurBrown the etymology in the SOED follows strictly that provided by Etymonline:[(O)Fr. mystique or L. mysticus adjs. f. Gk mustikos, f. mustēs initiated person f. muein close (the eyes, lips), initiate: see -IC. Cf. next]. "next" is the etymology in the next entry, that of "mystical", but there is no significant difference as this etymology is "[f. as prec. see -ICAL. Cf. prec.]". I did not list the other definitions, those that pertain to religion, and there are also two senses with strong similarities in that domain; I am therefore at a loss telling precisely what is what.
    – LPH
    Jun 22, 2021 at 16:07
  • Correct, the morphological etymology is the same, but definitional etymology of the sense that the word is first attested is quite different. That's what I meant. I think it is clear that these words are largely used interchangeably, so much so that many dictionaries do not even differentiate them. Jun 22, 2021 at 16:36
  • @GArthurBrown I understand a little better now; I wasn't aware of that matter of definitional etymology (to be found at the very start of the etymology, I suppose).
    – LPH
    Jun 22, 2021 at 16:40
  • Thanks @LPH, I think this reflects better the kind of subtle difference I was searching for. Jun 23, 2021 at 9:15

You could make the same points about "magic" and "magical" (Disneyworld includes the "Magic Kingdom," but until recently it featured an airport shuttle bus called "Disney's Magical Express") and many other adjectives ending in "-ic": mythic/mythical, poetic/poetical. The thread Why is it "geometric" but "theoretical"? shows that it's a case of parallel evolution. As it notes there, some usages have "settled" into certain connotations (with "poetic/poetical", I'd say that "poetic" means "having the qualities that poetry has," while "poetical" means "having to do with poetry").

I'm out of my etymological depth, but I feel like "-ic" endings are more preferred today and "-ical" endings are more archaic, so on those grounds "mystical" might carry more aura of the arcane (while "mystic" might suggest... pizza?).

  • Thanks, that parallel evolution explains the reason of having two words and it helps to understand that they were, at some point, actually the same. And the reference thread is very useful. So, in this case I'll stick to mystic as a general usage, unless I wanted to give it a more ancient/magical touch. Jun 21, 2021 at 20:24
  • @FranArjona It looks like "mystic" appeared in the late 14th Century, while "mystical" appeared about a century later. Both Late Medieval. Jun 22, 2021 at 15:02

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