Critique vs. Criticism

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Although dictionaries list critique and criticism as synonyms, the words are not exact equivalents.

Perhaps because it’s two letters shorter, headline writers often use critique when criticism would be the more appropriate choice.

Take the following example:

News Anchor Fiercely and Succinctly Claps [sic] Back at a Viewer’s Critique of Her Appearance

Here is the so-called “critique”:

All the female reporters and anchors wear little to no jewelry but B Ciara wears the biggest and worst jewelry I have ever seen, please have her play by all same rules as every one else.

The viewer’s petty comment is not a critique. It is a criticism.

The word critique connotes a detailed analysis that describes and weighs the characteristics of something before drawing conclusions based on evidence and inference.

The type of critique I’m most familiar with analyzes and evaluates a piece of writing. Other kinds of critiques are written by political analysts, scientific theorists, and philosophers.

A critique considers positive aspects of a subject as well as negative ones. A critique’s conclusion may be negative, but the critic will have demonstrated a line of reasoning that led to it.

The meanings of critique and criticism overlap, but criticism is already used in a general sense to refer to an expression of mere disapproval or faultfinding. It seems desirable to reserve the word critique to refer to a detailed and thoughtful analysis.

Here are some alternative choices for criticism in the sense of censure:


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1 thought on “Critique vs. Criticism”

  1. Maeve, I agree with you 100 percent. The word “critique” connotes a detailed analysis. The word also denotes formality, such as a critique performed by a formal board or committee.
    Formal boards or committees can critique these, for example:
    1. The surgical procedures used by or proposed by surgeons.
    2. The medical treatments of patients, especially those who have died or suffered serious complications or injuries.
    3. The detailed designs of almost anything in engineering, architecture, or costly experiments. The groups that carry out these critiques are often called “Design Review Boards”.
    4. The actions of pilots, railroad engineers, designers, truck drivers, in any kind of an aviation crash, aerospace failure, train wreck, serious truck wreck, ship sinking, serious fire, etc.
    The most famous of these critiques was produced by the board that investigated the destruction of the space shuttle CHALLENGER, and furthermore, the entire NASA space shuttle program. That board had Secretary Rogers as its chairman, Neil Armstrong as its vice-chairman, astronaut Sally Ride as a member, and the Nobel Prize winner Richard Feynman as a member.
    Since her untimely death at a young age, it has been revealed that much “inside information” was channeled to the board through Sally Ride. Unfortunately, she is not here to talk about that.

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