By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated, November 14, 2013)
Defuse: (verb) reduce tension (typically among people), (verb) remove part of an explosive device so that it won’t blow up
To defuse the tense situation, Vera placated the frightened men with cupcakes and the angry rabbits with carrots.
Vera also defused the bomb that the rabbits had left in Edgar’s sock drawer.
Diffuse: (verb) to spread throughout a large area, (adjective) being spread throughout a large area rather than concentrated in one particular spot
With no gravity to pull it downward, Melton’s spilled Pepto Bismol diffused throughout the entire space station.
According to Dr. Seuss, attempting to get rid of a concentrated spot will lead to a diffuse and colourful mess.
Decent: (adjective) kind, polite, moral, honest
Mary was a decent person, so she suppressed her urge to throw rotten tomatoes at Vivian.
Descent: (noun) lineage, ancestral origins; (noun) the act of moving downward (e.g., descending from a mountaintop)
Lorelei was of Scottish descent, yet she was able to blend in well with the flamingos.
Their descent from the mountain’s peak was hampered by a disgruntled goat.
Dissent: (verb) disagree, oppose, dispute; (noun) disagreement, opposition, dispute
The army squashed dissent by offering the protesters free hot dogs to disperse.
The question of llamas versus wildebeests led to significant dissent.
Desert: (noun) a sand-filled landscape, (verb) abandon
Billy moved out into the desert to study the historic cultural dances of the sand people for his PhD thesis.
Beverley deserted Bartholomew in the middle of their honeymoon to run off with a bohemian sandwich artist.
Dessert: (noun) a sweet treat at the end of a meal
No one wanted to eat Nelson’s desserts because he just covered rocks with chocolate frosting and served them on a fancy platter.
Discomfit: (verb) cause unease or embarrassment
Those at the dinner party were discomfited when they realized that the host was using a cat litter scoop to stir the bolognaise sauce.
Discomfort: (verb) cause embarrassment or anxiety; (noun) embarrassment, anxiety, or slight pain
Although the clients at Chuck’s House of Therapeutic Massage sometimes experienced discomfort when massaged by the Incredible Hulk, they preferred his services to those of Edward Scissorhands.
Discreet: (adjective) careful and prudent (usually to avoid revealing confidential information or embarrassing others)
Jack could trust Linda to be discreet about his personal matters, so he was not worried that anyone would discover his secret stash of erotic Pogs.
Discrete: (adjective) distinct and separate
Each of Jack’s rubber chickens was kept in a discrete package, labelled with its name and the date of purchase, so he could always find the one he needed.
Disinterested: (adjective) impartial, neutral
Spudrick was a disinterested party in the dispute between Glenda Mae and Marla Sue, which began with the theft of a pig and ended in a violent pillow fight.
Uninterested: (adjective) lacking interest
Wilma was uninterested in Betty’s detailed account of her past life as Cleopatra’s pet dog Sniffy.
Disperse: (verb) scatter, leave, separate
The crowd dispersed quickly when the police set up loudspeakers and began blasting Jefferson Starship.
Disburse: (verb) pay, distribute (often refers to paying out from a fund)
The police were forced to disburse compensation money to all those in the crowd who had been injured in the stampede to escape the terrible music.
Some say that there is no difference between these two words. Others assert that they should be applied to different types of objects. Oxford University Press says: “Generally speaking, the British spelling is disc and the US spelling is disk, but there is much overlap and variation between the two. In particular, the spelling for senses relating to computers is nearly always disk, as in floppy disk, disk drive, and so on.”
Drier: (adjective) more dry, less moist
Andy, who lived in the dessert, had drier skin than Mona, who lived in a vat of tapioca pudding.
Dryer: (noun) an appliance used to dry clothing after washing
Noting that for every eight socks she put in the dryer, only seven were there when the cycle was completed, Eleanor concluded that her dryer was a portal to Narnia.
Dual: (adjective) comprising two parts, two uses, or two of the same item
The Sporkinator 5000 was a dual-use appliance because its pointy end could be used to poke holes in food and its blunt end could be used to squash things.
Duel: (noun) A contest or fight involving two individuals or two groups
Lord Sexington challenged Buzz Dastardly to a duel with water pistols at dawn.
- Casagrande, J. (2006). Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies: A Guide to Language tor Fun and Spite. Penguin, New York.
- Editors of the American Heritage Dictionaries. (2004). 100 Words Almost Everyone Confuses & Misuses. Boston, MA: Houghton-Mifflin Company.
- Merriam-Webster Dictionary. (2013). Merriam-Webster, Incorporated. Merrriam-Webster.com.
- O’Conner, P. T. (1996). Woe Is I, the Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English. New York, G. P. Putnam’s Sons.
- Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary. (2013). Oxford University Press. OALD8.OxfordLearnersDictionaries.com.