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Discrete =/= Discreet

old typewriter by menken at morgueFile.com

 

 

Dear Writers,

Mark Twain once said, “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter. ’Tis the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” He was entirely right.

Please, for the love of the language, learn the difference between discrete (distinct; separate) and discreet (unobtrusive; modest; prudent). Writing something like “He was a discrete person” makes someone who knows what discrete means very nervous. Yes, I really hope he was a separate person. Otherwise, you’re writing a particularly creepy form of science fiction/horror.

Ditto for disinterested and uninterested. These are two discrete (see what I did there?) words with entirely different meanings. If you are on trial, you want a disinterested (impartial) judge; you don’t want an uninterested (bored) one.

Furthermore, nonplussed doesn’t mean unfazed. It really doesn’t. It means the opposite of unfazed. It means bewildered. Oh, and unphased isn’t a word. Also phased (from phase, a distinct time period) doesn’t mean fazed (disturbed). So “I wasn’t phased by that” is wrong — unless you’re discussing time travel which went awry. You mean “I wasn’t fazed by that.”

End of today’s rant.

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