“Exercise” vs. “Exorcise”: What’s The Difference?

We hear it all of the time: working out is essential to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. But is it exercise or exorcise that healthcare professionals constantly remind us is good for our health?

Although some do believe in the importance of exorcise because it means “to free evil spirits,” it’s exercise that has to do with bodily movement that helps to keep us physically and mentally in shape.

So, why do these similarly spelled words refer to two entirely different things?

What does exercise mean?

Exercise refers to “physical or mental exertion, especially for the sake of improving health.” The noun can also be used for “something done or performed as a means of practice or training.” Whether you’re taking a spin class or doing crossword puzzles to keep your brain sharp, you’re exercising.

Exercise first came into use sometime during the mid 1300s, and ultimately derives from the Latin verb exercēre, “to train, practice, to keep at work.”

The word doesn’t just refer to fitness; it can also be used when “carrying out a function or action.” For example, when you exercise self control or the scope within your job duties.

What does exorcise mean?

While trying to stay in shape, you won’t find people standing in line at the gym to exorcise—or at least we hope not!

Exorcise is a verb that refers to expelling an evil spirit “by adjuration or religious or solemn ceremonies.” It also can mean “to free a person or place from those malignant influences.”

Exorcise is Middle English from late 1300s and originated from the late Latin exorcizāre, stemming from the Greek exorkizein, “to banish an evil spirit; bind by oath.”

Exorcise can also be used to “get rid of something troublesome” or “free from malignant influences,” like when you exorcise your ex’s memories from your home by throwing away their belongings.

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Are you using the words correctly?

Given that these two terms have distinct meanings, it’s important to use the correct one before inviting people over to exercise … or exorcise.

Although both could be related to your health goals (if you feel like there’s a demon trapped in you that’s in need of an eviction), the correct word is typically exercise when referring to anything having to do with physical fitness. Whether you’re running at the gym or getting your heart elevated outside with some fresh air, you’re fulfilling your daily exercise requirement.

But if your heart is beating out of your chest because you’re confronting an evil spirit, you’re working to exorcise a demon.

Let’s try an example. Can you choose the correct word based on the context clues?

  • You are in danger! See the priest at once, and he will ______ the demon that haunts you.

The answer is exorcise, or “seek to expel (an evil spirit) by adjuration or religious or solemn ceremonies.”

How about this example?

  • We’ve tried to reason with her, but nothing will ______ her of the demon of greed that seems to have overtaken her.

Did you use exorcise again? If so, you are correct! This is a metaphorical exorcism; she is so overcome by greed that she seems possessed. The sentence would not make sense this way: nothing will exercise her of the demon of greed that seems to have overtaken her.

Remember, exercise is related to improving fitness or utilizing a function, and the sentence context lets us know she needs to expel this demon.

Can you try this one?

  • As the leader of this team, I’m expected to _______ good judgment in delegating tasks.

Did you fill the blank with exercise? This use of the word refers to “carrying out a function or action.” Exorcising good judgment would banish it, which would cause quite a problem for the leader and the team.

Of course, we think you’ll know the answer to this one:

  • _______ helps keep us physically fit.

As you now know well, that’s the noun exercise.

And take it from us, you’ve exercised good judgment in expanding your vocabulary with this article!


You’ll need to exercise smart judgment if you want to market your new vocabulary skills well. First things first, do you know the difference between marketing and advertising?

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