I forget how this came up, but I ran across something that made me wonder about the adjective especial, which I think of as an antiquated and/or British equivalent of special and have never (to the best of my knowledge) used. It turns out there is supposed to be a difference between the two; Bryan Garner, who can be relied upon for antiquated distinctions, says:
Traditionally, especial (= distinctive, significant, peculiar) is the opposite of ordinary. E.g.: “The public press is entitled to peculiar indulgence and has especial rights and privileges.” Special (= specific, particular) is the opposite of general <this community has special concerns>, though increasingly special is driving out especial.
The usually reliable Merriam-Webster’s Concise Dictionary of English Usage is unwontedly vague:
These words are etymologically the same, so they might be expected to be synonymous. That they are essentially synonymous is at least historically true, but in present-day English they are not synonymous very often. When they are, it is usually special and specially that are used like especial and especially rather than the other way around.
They do not, however, describe the lack of synonymousness, simply saying “Especial, as the less usual word, is therefore somewhat more emphatic.” So I turn to the Varied Reader: do you use the adjective especial, and if so, how do you see it as differing from special?