Mixed-up Meanings

  1. text that says reeking vs. wreaking, on a light blue background

    “Reeking” vs. “Wreaking”: What’s The Difference?

    Does Godzilla wreak havoc or reek havoc? Reeking is a word that usually describes something with a bad smell. Wreaking refers to something that causes destruction or damage. So really, when it comes to Godzilla … it depends. Let’s examine the two homophones and learn why each refers to something different. What does reek mean? As a verb, reek means a few things. Most often, …

  2. “Theory” vs. “Hypothesis”: What Is The Difference?

    Chances are you’ve heard of the TV show The Big Bang Theory. Lots of people love this lighthearted sitcom for its quirky characters and their relationships, but others haven’t even given the series a chance for one reason: they don’t like science and assume the show is boring. However, it only takes a few seconds with Sheldon and Penny to disprove this assumption and realize …

  3. text on dark green background: magma vs. lava

    “Magma” vs. “Lava”: Which Is Scarier?

    Raise your hand if you’ve ever made an exploding volcano. For a lot of us, that volcano project was a key milestone of our science fair years. (And if you didn’t build it, chances are, one of your classmates definitely did.) As you might recall, the project requires a few key ingredients, including dish soap, white vinegar, baking soda, and food coloring. All of these are assembled …

  4. “Marketing” vs. “Advertising”: What’s The Difference?

    We’re pretty sure we don’t have to point it out: advertising is everywhere. Your social media, internet, and email inbox are full of ads—and that’s because you are a consumer and therefore a target for marketing campaigns for everything from soft drinks to cars. Sometimes it’s hard to decipher what’s an ad and what’s not. From the influx of emails from retailers to the influencers …

  5. “Intrusive” vs. “Obtrusive”: What’s The Difference?

    Imagine this: one day, you look out your window and notice that the neighbors have installed a very large shed in their yard. If this shed blocks a view you previously enjoyed, would you describe it as intrusive or obtrusive? It’s natural to wonder. Intrusive and obtrusive both refer to something or someone who invades or is thrust into a situation in an unwelcome way. And …

  6. elderly woman making silly face

    What’s The Difference Between A “Psychopath” And A “Sociopath”?

    Think of your classic con artist: they lie, they’re manipulative, they don’t care about anyone else, and they lack remorse. Are these criminals psychopaths? Sociopaths? Both? People tend to think that a sociopath is a psychopath who doesn’t go around doing criminal things. Likewise, psycho remains shorthand for all kinds of deviant antisocial behavior, from stalking to murder. We’ve got some news for you. Despite …

  7. What Is The Difference Between A “Llama” And An “Alpaca”?

    Are these adorable shaggy mammals popping up across home goods, clothing, and toys llamas? Or are these sweet, fluffy creatures that people adore called alpacas? And what’s the difference between the two? Despite being commonly mixed up, llamas and alpacas are two distinct animals with several defining features. Let’s take a closer look. What is an alpaca? An alpaca is a domesticated mammal from South America. …

  8. What’s The Difference Between Atheism And Agnosticism?

    Studies have found that both atheists and agnostics are surprisingly knowledgable about a variety of religions. Which begs the commonly asked question: what is the difference between someone who defines themselves as “atheist” and a professed “agnostic?” Atheist vs. agnostic There is a key distinction. An atheist doesn’t believe in a god or divine being. The word originates with the Greek atheos, which is built from the …

  9. “Dissent” vs. “Protest”: Why Choosing The Right Word Matters

    Demonstrations against racism and police brutality have put the words dissent and protest at the center of our vocabulary this year. Dictionary.com has seen a surge of interest in these words, which speak to their relevance to our current times. The death of George Floyd—a Black man who was killed after a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes—has inspired worldwide protests that continue …

  10. “Infamous” vs. “Notorious”: Which One Is Better?

    Thanks to clicks, likes, and verified blue checkmarks, a person’s reputation can extend far beyond those who know them personally. For example, it’s widely known that Chris Evans is a real-life Captain America who holds doors open for people, and we all acknowledge that Beyoncé is a goddess among us mere mortals. Speaking of superpowers, before she passed away on September 18, 2020, Supreme Court …

  11. “Emotional Support Animal” vs. “Therapy Animal” vs. “Service Animal”: The Differences Matter

    This September, we released our biggest update to the dictionary ever. Our dictionary editors touched over 15,000 entries in a sweeping effort to reflect the many ways language is evolving. From capitalizing Black to adding a separate entry for Pride to revising references to suicide, our update addresses topics that touch us on some of our most personal levels: race and ethnicity, gender and sexuality, …

  12. “Street Art” vs. “Graffiti”: What’s The Difference?

    Now more than ever before, public art is on the rise. New murals crop up in cities, large and small, on what feels like an everyday basis, each one breathing new, vibrant life into the streets that were once blank canvases for creativity. The terms graffiti and street art have long been used interchangeably to describe these public art installations—but what should we really call …