Helpful Distinctions between Commonly Confused Terms

This thread was inspired by an article in Discover magazine titled Knit Theory despite the fact that it’s exclusively about crocheting and the needleworker who is the subject of the article explains the difference. Oh, and the tagline describes her as “a Latvian mathematician who’s handy with needle and yarn.” For the benefit of any editors of Discover who might be reading, and for my friends at the SDMB:

Knitting and crocheting are two different things. The technique is completely different, and the results (in most cases) look completely different. (Knitted fabric vs. crocheted fabric.) There is no generic term that means ‘knitting or crocheting’, so if you want to refer to one of them, you should be sure which one you mean. Knitting involves two knitting needles, which are long sticks with pointed ends. Crochet involves a crochet hook, which is a shorter stick whose end is shaped in such a way that you can catch a loop of yarn with it. There is no such thing as a “crochet needle.” It’s a crochet hook or it’s a knitting needle (and if the latter, there are probably two of them.) Okay, to be pedantic, “crochet needle” is an obsolete term for a crochet hook, but in my experience it’s mostly used by people who are unfamiliar with the craft and/or haven’t the foggiest notion whether they’re talking about knitting or crocheting.

Here’s some more terminology that is frequently confused in the media and in everday conversation:

The Universe is everything there is, the cosmos. A galaxy is a collection of millions or billions of stars which is held together by gravity. There are hundreds of billions of galaxies in the observable Universe. The Galaxy (capital G) or the Milky Way Galaxy is the galaxy in which our Sun is located. The Solar System is the Sun (Latin: sol) and everything that orbits around the Sun, including the Earth and the other planets and their moons, and asteroids, comets.

Are there any other terms that you often find used interchangably that shouldn’t be? Are there any terms that you commonly get confused? Maybe someone can help you keep them straight.

Let’s spotlight confusing terminology from some field of knowledge, please, rather than prosaic bugbears like they’re/their/there, affect/effect, accept/except, verbal/oral and the like.

Here is an Architectural one–when you have someone put a new patio in–you have concrete put in, not cement. Cement is ‘in’ concrete–but if you had a cement patio put it–the first windstorm would blow it all away.

I hear that all the time–I fell on the cement, they poured new cement sidewalks in my neighborhood, Granny–look at the new cement pond :slight_smile: well okay–maybe only Jethro said the last one. But my point still stands!

So to sum up–Concrete is composed of cement, sand, some sort of aggregate like gravel and water and additives. Cement is a powdery subtance that goes into Concrete.
thank you, rant over–carry on

Astrology and Astronomy are very different things, even leaving aside the question of the validity of astrology. Astrology is the study of the purported effect of the planets and constellations on human affairs and personalities. Astronomy is the study of pretty much everything in a place that is not Earth. That division seems a little lopsided to an astronomer…

Astronomy and Cosmology are different, as well. Cosmology is the sub-field of astronomy that deals with the universe as a whole (things like how fast it’s expanding and how old it is, and what happened in the early history of the universe). Astronomy also includes fields such as stellar astrophysics (how stars work), planetary science, and others. All cosmologists are astronomers, but not all astronomers are cosmologists.

Astronomy and Astrophysics, on the other hand, are the same thing, and have been since the 1600s. Some universities put one word on your degree, some put the other, some put both- it’s all the same. An astrophysicist hasn’t necessarily studied any more physics than an astronomer, nor do they necessarily have different specialties within the field of astronomy. A joke I’ve heard is that, when the person sitting next to you on an airplane asks “What do you do?”, if you want to talk to them, you tell them you’re an astronomer. If you don’t want to talk to them, you tell them you’re an astrophysicist.

These things are on very, very different distance scales as well. We might send manned or unmanned spacecraft to other planets in the Solar System in our lifetimes (very likely will, for unmanned craft). We will not send spacecraft to other stars or to other galaxies in the lifetime of anyone now living.

One that really annoys me: “The Web” versus “The Internet”.

The Web is that nice picture-and-text-filled thing with links that you view through your web browser.

The Internet is the system of connected computers that carries it to your home or office.

The Internet is older than the Web and carries many things other than the Web. Email. Unsenet “news”. Cheap phone calls to Brazil. Linux downloads. Text messages. And all sorts of other infrastructure things that you never see, like time synchronisation signals.

Learn the difference, people!
I blame AOL and its ilk for this confusion.

Prostate vs. prostrate.

The former is a male gland between the bladder and the penis. It gets bigger with age, making urinating more difficult and is a frequent locus for cancer.

The latter is the position of lying down flat on one’s stomach and face.

Thank you, Hakuna Matata! Consider my igorance fought. I will try to remember that cement is the stuff that, uh, cements concrete together.

Thanks for making this point. I was going to include something along these lines in the OP, but decided I’d gone on quite long enough.

No matter how often you explain this to Detective Sipowicz, he never learns.

Now if someone could just explain the difference between **murderonomy **and murderology, I would understand my Futurama DVD a whole lot better…


Okay, here´s one from my profession.

GPS , for “Global Positioning System”, is the system, based on satellites, which allows you to know where you are using a hand-held gizmo, also usually referred to as a “GPS” even though technically it’s a “GPS receiver”.

GIS , for “Geographic Information System”, is a computer program which takes data, where each piece of data represents some location and its attributes, and lets you display and analyze that data in different ways. Many people use them, from ecology researchers to city fire departments.

The two terms do come together sometimes: often, data gathered using a GPS is entered into a GIS; and an on-board vehicular computer may use a GPS to keep track of its location, but display data layers with a GIS.

The main thing to remember is that a tuxedo is not tails, and a tailcoat is not a cutaway.

A tuxedo has a suit-coat length jacket, without tails. It shouldn’t be worn with a white tie, although a white vest is okay.

Tails have tails (natch), a short front and buttons down each side just for show. They must be worn with a white tie and white vest.

A cutaway has swallowtails, which have an unbroken curve from the jacket front down to the points in back. It must be worn with a long tie or ascot and vest.

Engraving and embroidery are two different things. Engraving involves cutting into the surface of an item with a sharp tool (we use a diamond tipped tool attached to our computer-driven engraving machine.)

Embroidery involves needles and thread on fabric. I can’t embroider on glass. Please don’t ask me to.

If you can count them they’re boogers, if you have to weigh them they’re snot.

**Herbs **(pronounced “erbs” are plant medicines I can give you to make you feel better. **Herb **(pronounced “Herb”) is a man’s name. Unless you’re British.

**Complimentary **medicine is when I tell you you’re looking nice today and that makes you feel better. (Alternatively, if I give you free medicine, it’s complimentary.)
**Complementary **medicine is alternative medicine working together with allopathic medicine.

There is no such friggin’ word as “wholistic.” If I see you write anything other than “holistic”, I will assume you are a crystal waving moron.

An ecologist is not the same as an environmentalist. Ecology is the scientific study of the relationship between organisms and their environments; Environmentalism is a political movement to protect natural environments from detrimental changes caused by humans. There are many ecologists who are not environmentalists; and most environmentalists are not professional ecologists.

Your car has brakes it does not have breaks. If you break the brakes on your car you will post a thread with the title I broke my brakes. :smiley:

A translator puts documents from one language to another.

An interpreter does this with speech.

In general, courts have interpreters, not translators… although a translator might be needed to prepare the transcripts in another language after the trial.

No, I cannot interpret for you. I can translate, but I charge by the word.

A crest is the top part of a coat of arms. It is generally placed atop a helm which in turn is placed on the shield or escutcheon. “Crest” cannot refer to the entire achievement of arms.

To crumple is to crinkle and wad up; to crumble is to reduce to crumbs. You crumple paper; you crumble cookies.

Fewer is number, lesser is quantity. This is a lesser crowd than that one, as there are fewer people in it.

A round window on a ship is not a porthole, it is a scuttle

Oh, and I didn’t know this before starting this translation:

The little bumps on your tongue are not taste buds; they are papillae. Each papilla contains multiple taste buds, which are microscopic.

A copyright is, essentially, the right to copy something. It is generally applied to content, such as the words in a book or the lyrics and music in a song. If you own the copyright to something, you have the right to determine the conditions under which it may be copied. You typically sue people who violate your copyright because you wish to protect your right to receive compensation in return for using for what you’ve created.

A trademark is something that symbolically represents a business, an organization or in some cases a person. It is most often a name or an image (like a logo), but trademark applications have been taken out for colors, sounds and even smells (success of these has varied between jurisdictions). You typically sue people who violate your trademark because their misuse interferes with your ability to use the trademark to represent your business, or misleads people into thinking your business is linked with that of the violator.

If I run an ad for my business that contains the entire lyrics to “Yesterday”, I’m going to get sued for violating a copyright.

If I name my business “The Mickey Mouse House” or hang a Nike Swoosh in my shop window, I’m going to get sued for violating a trademark.