Eloquent English #9- Discreet and Discrete

Hello everyone! I’m back with another Eloquent English! I’m still not able to believe it’s already January! Like how did it happen so fast!?
Moving on..


The meaning of the possible symbols that I use in the is meme-
When a quotation or example shows a misuse , it is clearly marked as wrong by means if a cross: ❌
And if it is a doubtful or ill-advised usage, it is marked with a question mark: ❓, or a double question mark: ❓❓
Today’s words are- Discreet and Discrete
Take care not to confused the spelling of these two adjectives.
Discreet means ‘showing prudence,  judiciously reserved’, especially in the matter of keeping secrets- a discreet silence– and also ‘modest, unobtrusive’: a discreet lettering on his nameplate; kept at a discreet distance.

Hoxha, however, ruthless enough to make Stalin look soft, is fading fast. The French, whose medical establishment possesses a doctor well acquainted with Hoxha’s health,  are typically most discreet about their medical intelligence.  Few people, however, give him more than two years.
              -Charles Meynell, The Times

Discrete means ‘separate,  distinct’, and was a learned term from logic, the opposite of concrete when concrete means ‘taken together,  indivisible’. So: several discrete sounds; developing a discrete stages.

Of course long ago the Indians had told us that the notion of the discrete and separate ego was an illusion- perhaps a dangerous one. Under the probings of Freud & Co. it had all bur the disintegrated already!
                   -Lawrence Durrell, The Fiction Magazine

Both words come from Latin discernere, ‘to discern’. The word discerning still encapsulates a connection between ‘showing good judgement’ and ‘picking out, telling apart’. So does the word discriminating. But discreet and discrete cannot stand in for each other; they are discrete words with distant meanings, and should not be confused.
The writer of the following extract- admittedly not a natove English speaker- has made the common mistake of spelling the -eet form as -ete. Or perhaps it was the typesetter.

❓So, I don’t fit very well into the indentikit picture of an exiled East European ‘dissident’. I can’t be used for the cold war crussade of the present British government, nor can I be popular among overtly or discretely pro-Soviet left-wingers. Neutral institutions, like the BBC Czech Service, won’t employ me: I am too political,  too outspoken.
                 – Zdena Tomin, The Listener

The words used to be distinguished in pronunciation as well as in spelling: discrete, like concrete,  used to be stressed on the first syllable, and it is still acceptable to stress it in this way. But it is more commonly stressed on the second syllable today, and is thus indistinguishable, when spoken, from discreet.



Author: Vrushali

I'm a under grad student on the path to become an accountant but that doesn't stop me from loving books, art and writing among many other things. I blog about all of them and all things that make life worth living. Check out my

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