Discrepancy vs. Disparity

By Mark Nichol

What’s the difference between discrepancy and disparity and other similar words beginning with the prefix dis-? The meanings are often the same or closely related, but some distinctions apply:

Discrepancy, the noun form of the rarely used adjective discrepant, stems from the Latin term discrepare, which means “to sound discordantly.” A discrepancy is a variance from or disagreement with something, as in the discrepancy between inventory figures and actual stock, or between a statement on a certain issue and a record of a previous comment about the same topic.

Disparity is a noun form of the adjective disparate. (Disparateness is its more unwieldy synonym.) The root of these words is the Latin term parare, which means “to prepare.” Although disparate means “different” or “distinct,” disparity has a more precise connotation, one of inequality.

Meanwhile, a dissimilarity or dissimilitude (the root of these terms is the Latin word similis, the basis of same, similar, simulate, and resemblance) is a lack, respectively, of commonality and resemblance.

Distinctness and distinctiveness (both, like distinguish, from the Latin word distinguere, meaning “to separate, to prick apart”) have similar rather than distinct meanings: Distinctness refers to notability, an unmistakable quality or phenomenon, or a separateness; distinctiveness, meanwhile, also refers to a markedly singular trait but may alternatively apply to a stylishness or other state that sets something apart.

In an bygone era of unregulated spelling, discreet and discrete were originally alternate spellings for the word meaning “separate, distinct,” but the former form eventually took on a specialized sense, one of “careful, prudent.” The latter form is often erroneously used in place of the well-established variant spelling for that meaning.

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5 Responses to “Discrepancy vs. Disparity”

  • ApK

    “Disparity is a noun form of the adjective disparate. (Disparateness is its more unwieldy synonym.) The root of these words is the Latin term parare, which means “to prepare.” Although disparate means “different” or “distinct,” disparity has a more precise connotation, one of inequality.”

    I’m not sure about this.
    I believe disparity stems from par, meaning equal. Parity means equality. Dis-parity is unequal. No subtle connotation required.

  • thebluebird11

    No, I haven’t flown the coop or smashed into a window…I have kept up with the daily posts but not had time to write in a long time! Work, classes, exams, life…
    But with this post I just had to say, I love DWT. My vocabulary is deep enough so that I’m usually familiar with the words you discuss and can use them properly in conversation, but if I were put on the spot, I’d be hard pressed to actually put my finger on what exactly is the difference between them and why I choose to use one over the other. I love how you pick them apart so well!
    As usual, I say keep up the great work!

  • ApK

    >>No, I haven’t flown the coop or smashed into a window<<

    "Is that all you do? Bird imitations?"

    hehe.

  • MPC

    “Distinctness and distinctiveness (both, like distinguish, from the Latin word distinguere, meaning “to separate, to prick apart”) have similar rather than distinct meanings”

    So what about distinction?

  • thebluebird11

    @ApK: Who says it’s imitation LOL But don’t worry, you haven’t ruffled my feathers 😉

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