Word Confusion: Defuse versus Diffuse

Posted June 8, 2015 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Self-Editing, Word Confusions, Writing

Revised as of 23 August 2017

I was watching the final episode of The Unit — and just to make sure it was the last one, I read the episode summary. Oops. “The Unit must locate and diffuse three sets of dirty bombs…” Now, I’m guessing they did not intend to ensure the bombs dispersed, and if an editor had edited this summary, they’d’a caught it. ‘Cause I’m damn sure they meant for The Unit to defuse those bombs.

I suppose they could’a meant a stink bomb…you know how the boys are in trying to spread those around…

Word Confusions…

…started as my way of dealing with a professional frustration with properly spelled words that were out of context in manuscripts I was editing as well as books I was reviewing. It evolved into a sharing of information with y’all. I’m hoping you’ll share with us words that have been a bête noir for you from either end. Consider sharing this Word Confusion with friends by tweeting it.

Defuse Diffuse
Credit to: Apple Dictionary.com

A white, tricked-out Ford E-350 truck labeled bomb squad

“Summit County Bomb Squad’s Ford E-350” by Raymond Wambsgans from Akron, Ohio, USA, is under the CC BY-SA 2.0 license, via Wikimedia Commons

The Akron Sheriff’s Bomb Squad is tasked with defusing a bomb.


A candle-based diffuser

“Candle-based Diffuser” was uploaded by Eggybird under the CC BY 2.0 license, via Wikimedia Commons

This diffuser uses a lit candle to heat the oil to scatter its fragrance.

Part of Grammar:
Verb, transitive

Third person present verb: defuses
Past tense or past participle: defused
Gerund or Present participle: defusing

Adjective; Verb, intransitive & transitive

Third person present verb: diffuses
Past tense or past participle: diffused
Gerund or Present participle: diffusing

Reduce the danger or tension


Remove the fuse from (an explosive device) in order to prevent it from exploding

  • Reduce the danger or tension in (a difficult situation)
Disperse, scatter


Adjective:
Spread out over a large area

Not concentrated

  • [Of disease] Not localized in the body: diffuse hyperplasia
  • Lacking clarity or conciseness

Verb, intransitive:
Spread or cause to spread over a wide area or among a large number of people

  • Become or cause (a fluid, gas, individual atom, etc.) to become intermingled with a substance by movement, typically in a specified direction or at specified speed

Verb, transitive:
Spread or cause to spread over a wide area or among a large number of people

  • Become or cause (a fluid, gas, individual atom, etc.) to become intermingled with a substance by movement, typically in a specified direction or at specified speed
  • Cause (light) to glow faintly by dispersing it in many directions
Examples:
The bomb squad tried to defuse the grenade.

He had the ability to defuse tense moments with humor.

The Unit must locate and defuse three sets of dirty bombs.

Adjective:
The diffuse community centered on the church.

Depending on the shot, a photographer may use tools to create a more diffuse light.

diffuse hyperplasia

The second argument is more diffuse.

Verb, intransitive:
technologies diffuse rapidly

Oxygen molecules diffuse across the membrane.

Verb, transitive:
The problem is how to diffuse power without creating anarchy.

Gas is diffused into the bladder.

Derivatives:
Noun: defuser Adjective: nondiffuse, nondiffused
Adverb: diffusely
Noun: diffuseness, diffusion
Verb: interdiffuse, interdiffused, interdiffusing
History of the Word:
Late Middle English from the Latin diffus- meaning poured out, from the verb diffundere, which is from dis- (away) + fundere (pour). The adjective is via the French diffus or the Latin diffusus meaning extensive from diffundere.

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C’mon, get it out of your system, bitch, whine, moan…which words are your pet peeves?

Pinterest Photo Credits

Bomb Explosive by Open Clipart-Vectors is under the CC0 Creative Commons license, via Pixabay. The Candle-based Diffuser was uploaded by Eggybird under the CC BY 2.0 license, via Wikimedia Commons.


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