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As far as I can tell, "Grecian" and "Greek" both mean "of or pertaining to Greece." Is there any difference at all between them?

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In Modern English, Greek is the usual adjective meaning of or pertaining to Greece.

Grecian is an earlier construction, with an adjective-forming -an suffix (American, Norwegian, Virginian), which is now pretty much relegated to stylistic and fixed phrase duty. It's common in the following expressions, among others:

But there is no Grecian restaurant, Grecian wine, or Grecian language.

  • 2
    No Grecian yogurt. – JLG Apr 7 '12 at 2:26
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    'What's a Grecian urn?' 'Just a few drachmas a week.' – Barrie England Apr 7 '12 at 6:33
  • Many instances of Grecian in the later half of your answer. True. But why? What makes a Grecian urn different from _ Greek urn. (Well, there can be a Greek urn). – Kris Apr 18 '12 at 11:58
  • Just the fashion, ma'am, just the fashion. Note that one of the phrases is a trademark for a men's cosmetic, two are women's clothing styles, and the other is attached to a rarely-used or -understood word that was briefly fashionable in certain circles (i.e, it's an idiom). Grecian urn was a popular phrase in the 19th century, when Grecian was in fashion. That's all; just the remains of deceased adjectives. – John Lawler Apr 22 '12 at 15:01
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"Grecian" means "in a style used by the inhabitants of Greece," and so anyone could make, say, a Grecian urn. "Greek" means either an inhabitant of Greece, or from Greece, so a Greek urn must come from Greece.

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    I disagree. If you mix lettuce with olives, feta cheese, and chunks of meat, that's a Greek salad. – Malvolio May 11 '12 at 15:20
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Grecian in my experience seems to used solely to describe the esthetic product of Classical Greek culture. Thus, a Grecian urn but a Greek soldier; Grecian pillars but Greek philosophy. And of course, Grecian Formula but Greek financial collapse.

  • While that's a pattern, a common title of Plutarch's Lives is Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans; I don't think all these noble Grecians were particularly aesthetic products. – JasonFruit Aug 25 '12 at 5:00
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    @JasonFruit -- in 1668, when Dryden published the first complete English translation of Lives, "Grecian" might have been the word for a Greek person (or just an Ancient Greek person), but I don't think that's been true for a while. – Malvolio Aug 25 '12 at 6:12
  • No doubt that customary title survived to the late 19th-Century edition I have. – JasonFruit Aug 25 '12 at 13:09

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