How To Be Discreet In Discrete Quantities

Do you know the difference in meaning between 'discreet' and 'discrete'? If not, you're hardly alone -- but don't panic, we're here to help.

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If you tell someone a secret and ask them not to spread it around, you're hoping they will be 'discreet'. The Macquarie provides the following definition for this useful adjective:

wise or judicious in avoiding mistakes or faults; prudent; circumspect; cautious; not rash; not given to careless talk; restrained

'Discrete', while also an adjective, refers to how something is divided up into parts:

detached from others; separate; distinct; consisting of or characterised by distinct or individual parts; discontinuous

As such, you can't ask a person to be 'discrete'. I suspect one source of the confusion is that the noun form of 'discreet', 'discretion', doesn't echo the spelling.

A simple rule of thumb? Remember the phrase 'It's not discreet if it's in a tweet' -- the double-Es go together.

The other rule of thumb? If you can't remember which spelling is correct, choose a different word altogether (perhaps 'circumspect' for 'discreet', and 'distinct' for 'discrete'). Accuracy matters.

Lifehacker's Mind Your Language column offers bossy advice on improving your writing.


Comments

    Thanks Gus. This is one "mind your language" where I was not aware there was even a difference.

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