Word Trippers: Distinction | Discrepancy | Disparity


Word Trippers: Distinction | Discrepancy | Disparity

I’ve been a fan for many years of Word Trippers, an ezine published by Barbara McNichol to explain commonly misused words. Or, as she puts it: Word Trippers help you write accurately every day (not everyday). Here’s the most recent version. – Jerry Brown

By Barbara McNichol
Barbara McNichol Editorial

Word TrippersThese three “d” words–distinction, discrepancy, and disparity–can easily trip us up. Pay attention to the important differences as shown in these examples.

“Distinction” often means a difference in detail that can be determined only by close inspection: e.g., the distinction between “good” and “excellent.”

“Discrepancy” refers to the difference between things that should correspond or match: e.g., there’s a discrepancy between his words and his actions.

“Disparity” is the condition or fact of being unequal, as in age, rank, or degree; e.g., the disparity (difference) between the two job offers was easy to quantify.

“Although he had served his clients with distinction, the discrepancy in his personal behavior led to a disparity of opinion among those who knew him best.” — Bill Sadler

“Due to a federal wage discrepancy, the disparity in pay for women employees lost the company its distinction as a female-friendly environment.” — Gordon Havens

One-Word/Two-Word BONUS: Here are four more in our series:  (This link takes you to the ever-growing list.)

Again, the examples feature this common thread: The two-word version is a verb phrase while the one-word version is a noun/adjective.

Sign up vs. signup (sign-up)

“Sign up” is a verb phrase meaning to enlist, as in an organization or group; to register or subscribe: e.g., to sign up for a class. As a noun, “signup” (or sign-up) refers to the act of enrolling or subscribing. When used as an adjective, it has a hyphen. “Use the sign-up sheet to sign up for the new ezine.”

Stand alone vs. standalone (stand-alone)

As a verb phrase, “stand alone” means to take a stand by oneself. “They stand alone in their support of the new requirement.” As an adjective, “stand-alone” means self-contained, able to operate without other hardware or software. “Unlike a printer, a fax machine is a stand-alone device because it doesn’t depend on other equipment to operate.”

As a noun, a “standalone” (or “stand-alone”) is a device or program with these characteristics.

Turn around vs. turnaround

The verb phrase refers to reversing the direction or course of something or someone. “Good consulting firms consistently turn around failing businesses.” As a noun, “turnaround” means the total time for a process, or the round trip of a vehicle or other conveyance; also a change of allegiance, opinion, mood, policy, etc. “The short turnaround from galley proof to publication
surprised everyone.” The adjective form is also turnaround (no hyphen).

Yes, more examples of one-word versus two-word phrases are lurking. Tell me which ones trip you up.
The NEXT Word Tripper — practicable vs. practical. Please craft an example sentence for the next Word Tripper–practicable vs. practical–and send it to me by Thursday, April 19. I’ll include the best ones in the Word Tripper of the Week that follows.

© 2012 Barbara McNichol. Reprinted with permission.


Barbara McNichol specializes in editing nonfiction books, one-sheets, and marketing materials. She helps writers find the perfect words in everything they write and publish. Learn more at Or sign up for your free email subscription to Word Trippers at

  1. It’s great to see Jerry’s support of using our language correctly — a mission for me in my role as a nonfiction editor.

    Since this info was posted, I have changed the link for my list of one-word vs. two-word bonus feature. Please check out a full list (and add your own suggestions) at

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