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The noun 'an academic' is a term for a member of the teaching staff of a university. It derives from the original Academy, Plato's school.

The adjective 'academic' has two main groups of meanings.

  • The first meaning of academic is comparatively neutral in its overtones. This is the sense akin to the noun: it means simply 'to do with the academy' or 'to belong, or be appropriate, to a university'. One might say that 'Her academic qualifications are excellent', or 'His academic interests lie in the field of nuclear physics.'
  • The second meaning of academic is usually pejorative. It means 'purely theoretical', and even more pejoratively, 'not at all practical'. Sometimes it goes as far as to mean 'so impractical as not to belong to the real world'. 'His knowledge of navigation is purely academic: he never actually knows where he is', 'Imaginary history treats of purely academic event' or 'In daily life, we must treat the possibility that an aeroplane will fall onto our heads as purely academic.'

True academic (in the first sense) students will avoid the second meaning of the adjective. Use words like 'impractical', 'theoretical' or 'hypothetical'.

You may also want to see AWE's page distinguishing academic and academician.
Oddly - to this editor - This is one of the 117 mis-spellings listed as 'Common difficulties' in the section on 'Spelling' within 'Writing' in UEfAP.