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


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

"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.

  • 2
    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

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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