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A classic is an outstanding example of a particular style; something of lasting worth or with a timeless quality; of the first or highest quality, class, or rank – something that exemplifies its class. The word can be an adjective (a classic car) or a noun (a classic of English literature). It denotes a particular quality in art, architecture, literature, design, technology, or other cultural artifacts. In commerce, products are named 'classic' to denote a long-standing popular version or model, to distinguish it from a newer variety. Classic is used to describe many major, long-standing sporting events. Colloquially, an everyday occurrence (e.g. a joke or mishap) may be described in some dialects of English as 'an absolute classic'.
"Classic" should not be confused with classical, which refers specifically to certain cultural styles, especially in music and architecture: styles generally taking inspiration from the Classical tradition, hence classicism.
The classics are the literature of ancient Greece and Rome, known as classical antiquity, and once the principal subject studied in the humanities. Classics (without the definite article) can refer to the study of philosophy, literature, history and the arts of the ancient world, as in "reading classics at Cambridge". From that usage came the more general concept of 'classic'.
Books, films and music particularly may become a classic but a painting would more likely be called a masterpiece. A classic is often something old that is still popular.
The first known use of "classic" in this sense — a work so excellent that it is on the level of the "classics" (Greek and Latin authors) — is by the 18th-century scholar Rev. John Bowle. He applied the term to Don Quixote, of which Bowle prepared an innovative edition, such as he judged that a classic work needed.
Some other examples would be the book The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, the 1941 film Citizen Kane, and the song Blue Suede Shoes by Elvis Presley. Lists of classics are long and wide-ranging, and would vary depending on personal opinion. Classic rock is a popular radio format, playing a repertoire of old but familiar recordings.
A contemporary work may be hailed as an instant classic, but the criteria for classic status tends to include the test of time. The term "classic" is in fact often generalized to refer to any work of a certain age, regardless of whether it is any good. A cult classic may be well known but is only favored by a minority.
A well known and reliable procedure, such as a demonstration of well-established scientific principle, may be described as classic: e.g. the cartesian diver experiment.
Manufacturers frequently describe their products as classic, to distinguish the original from a new variety, or to imply qualities in the product – although the Ford Consul Classic, a car manufactured 1961–1963, has the "classic" tag for no apparent reason. The iPod classic was simply called the iPod until the sixth generation, when classic was added to the name because other designs were also available – an example of a retronym. Coca-Cola Classic is the name used for the relaunch of Coca-Cola after the failure of the New Coke recipe change. Similarly, the Classic (transit bus), a transit bus manufactured from 1982–97, succeeded an unpopular futuristic design.
A classic can be something old that remains prized or valuable (but not an antique). Classic cars, for example, are recognised by various collectors' organisations such as the Classic Car Club of America, who regulate the qualifying attributes that constitute classic status.
Many sporting events take the name classic:
First edition 1777.