Shades of meaning: The answers revealed

29Jun09

About a week ago, I mused about the subtle shades of meaning that color even our most mundane words. Along with that post I included a quiz. Ready for the answers? Here goes:

Brave/Fearless
A brave person may experience fear and act anyway, but a fearless person is, well, without fear.

Engine/Motor
An engine uses energy to create mechanical power. A motor does the same, but with the specific purpose of causing motion.

Poison/Toxin
“Poison” covers a gamut of substances that could kill you, but “toxins” come only from natural sources such as microbes, animals and plants. (Yes, there are 100% organic toxins!)

War/Battle
“War” can be applied to many degrees of human conflict, but it generally implies a large-scale, prolonged encounter. “Battle,” on the other hand, connotes a more localized contest over a specific area.

Money/Currency
The two are interchangeable today. But historically, “money” referred to the concept, while “currency” was the physical manifestation of that concept.

Font/Typeface
A font is the digital file that tells your computer how to display a typeface. The typeface is the actual physical design of the letters—the width of the serifs, for example, or the depth of the bowls.

Sprain/Strain
A sprain is an injury to a ligament (the thick fibrous tissue that connects your bones). A strain, on the other hand, is an injury to the muscles or to the tendons that connect them. If you’re really uncoordinated—like me—you may simultaneously suffer both.

Axe/Hatchet
Paul Bunyan had an axe (long handle, good for felling trees), but the Vikings favored hatchets (smaller, with shorter handles, good for felling—well, just about everything).

Shrub/Bush
Both are defined as “woody plants with many stems,” but “bush” may be more appropriate for a single plant, whereas “shrub” may connote a series of plantings (similar to a hedge).

Ensure/Insure
It’s important to ensure that you’re properly insured. Ensure means “to make sure.” Insure means “to protect against loss.” If you’re unsure whether it’s “ensure” or “insure,” try substituting these phrases instead.

Refute/Rebut
If you refute someone’s argument, you’re completely disproving it. But if you rebut someone’s argument, you’re just voicing a different point of view. Hopefully without shouting.

Application/Program
These two are a matter of degree. An application is software that performs a specific, limited task. A program, on the other hand, is usually fairly complex, and is dependent on the computer’s operating system as a platform.

Rifle/Shotgun
Rifles fire a single bullet, while shotguns fire a zillion little pellets. Neither is a good choice for everyday wear.

Missile/Rocket
Like “bush/shrub,” these two are a matter of connotation. They are technically interchangeable, but missiles usually contain weapons.

Emigrate/Immigrate
When you emigrate, you’re leaving. When you immigrate, you’re arriving—unless you get lost on the way.

Serpent/Snake
Serpents have a bigger-than-life mythological and biblical reputation, whereas snakes live in your back yard.

You’re still reading? Wow. I salute your stamina.

Well, since you’ve stuck with me, here are four more:

Infer vs. Imply
Envy vs. Jealousy
Arrogance vs. Conceit
Simple vs. Easy

Savor/enjoy!



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