Word Confusion: Discreet versus Discrete

Posted February 17, 2014 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Editing, Self-Editing, Word Confusions, Writing

Talk about discreet… Or is that discrete? It would depend upon whether you were discussing behavior versus sorting. Is it a time to be careful in what your character says or how s/he behaves or is your character sorting out clues, creating categories with minute differences?

A Regency romance, well, any historical novel, would likely require discretion, for the character to be discreet whereas a science fiction novel is more likely to consider discrete amounts or types of a thing.

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.

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Discreet Discrete
Credit to: Apple Dictionary.com; Dictionary.com: discrete

19th century oil painting of a couple chatting while sitting on a loveseat in a grand room

“Discreet Conversation” by Albert Raudnitz (1814-1899) is in the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Screenshot of an entry in my Blog Posts database

Example of a discrete set of records.

Part of Grammar:
Adjective Adjective

Careful and circumspect in one’s speech or actions, especially in order to avoid causing offense or to gain an advantage

  • Intentionally unobtrusive
Categories, separation

Individually separate and distinct
[Mathematics; of a topology or topological space] Having the property that every subset is an open set

  • Defined only for an isolated set of points
  • Using only arithmetic and algebra
  • Not involving calculus

[Medicine] Not joined to or incorporated with another

  • Separate
  • Distinct

[Statistics; of a variable] Having consecutive values that are not infinitesimally close, so that its analysis requires summation rather than integration

  • [Of a distribution] Relating to a discrete variable
You can rely on him to be discreet.

We made some discreet inquiries.

I tried a discreet cough to keep from interrupting the speaker.

Speech sounds are produced as a continuous sound signal rather than discrete units.

There are a finite number of discrete categories.

Integers are discrete values whereas real numbers are continuous.

I prefer discrete fields in my databases.

“For discrete variables, the probability distribution is a plot of the probability of all possible values of a variable (Leung, 42).

Adjective: discreeter, discreetist, overdiscreet
Adverb: discreetly, overdiscreetly
Noun: discreetness, overdiscreetness
Adverb: discretely
Noun: discreteness
History of the Word:
Middle English from the Old French discret, which is from Latin discretus meaning separate; it is a past past participle of discernere meaning discern, the sense arising from the late Latin discretio Same origins as discreet, however, there are discrete differences.

C’mon, get it out of your system, bitch, whine, moan…which words are your pet peeves? Also, please note that I try to be as accurate as I can, but mistakes happen or I miss something. Email me if you find errors, so I can fix them…and we’ll all benefit!

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Pinterest Photo Credits:

“Having a Peek Out the Blinds” by Nicole McDaniel is freely available, via FreeImages.