September 20, 2011

Discreetly Discrete

Today's homonym pair is often abused in written communication, probably because both "discrete" and "discreet" are real words, so they don't trip the spell check. They are very different words, with very different meanings.

"Discrete" means separate and apart. A leper colony, for example, is a discrete group, because they live apart from others in order to quarantine the disease.

"Discreet" means sneaky and secret. If you're trying to do something discreetly, you are hoping nobody notices what you are doing.

The easy way to remember how to spell the one you are looking for: Look at the letter "e" in the word. If you mean separate, then separate the e's. Discrete. If you mean sneeeeeeky, then put the e's together. Discreet. Easy, right?