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‘defused’ + ‘diffused’ = confused

[19 Dec 2011] Mild shock in the shires this morning as the Daily Telegraph informed its readers:

‘The Distinguished Service Cross awarded to a Falklands veteran who lost an arm when a bomb he was diffusing on HMS Antelope exploded, has sold for a record £120,000.’

Shock, of course,  that Capt John Phillips had to sell to fund his retirement. Shock, maybe, at how much he got for the medal. But greater shock, surely, to see the Telegraph confusing its ‘diffused’ and ‘defused’.

To defuse is, literally, to take the fuse out of (say) an explosive device or, figuratively, to take the heat out of the situation. To diffuse is to spread something through or around, as in ‘the light is diffused by mirrors’ or ‘Constantine’s policies diffused Christianity throughout the Roman empire.’ 

Attend one of our writing-skills courses and you’ll find the defused/diffused dilemma among the questions in the wordpower quiz. So now you’ve already got one mark on your scorecard. [MC]

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