Let’s Save “Critique” vs. “Criticize”

By Maeve Maddox

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Regard the use of the word critique in the following examples:

My boyfriend critiques the way I make the bed and fold the towels.
Control freaks are compelled to critique every little thing you do.
Perhaps you need to look in a mirror before you critique someone else’s comments.

Using the word critique in these sentences is the waste of a good word. It’s being used with one of the meanings of the verb criticize.

The noun criticism has two meanings: “the art of estimating the qualities and character of something” and “fault-finding” or “censure.”

There’s “criticism” as in On Native Ground (Alfred Kazin’s study of American prose literature)
and there’s “criticism” as in “That dress makes you look fat.”

Although criticism has these two meanings, unless it’s used with a qualifier or in a specific context, the word is usually understood in the fault-finding sense.

They don’t like that usually the speakers who use the time offer only criticism.
It is a position which attracts a lot of criticism and very little appreciation.
Your partner may be tempted to keep secrets if you routinely spew negativity and criticism.

Qualifiers or an explicit context is needed to convey the other meaning.

Pope studied film criticism, history and production at the University of Kansas.
This would never happen in literary criticism or film and theatre, nevertheless.
For that, she won the first Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism, in 1970.

The word critique, on the other hand, offers the opportunity to distinguish between mere fault-finding and a thoughtful weighing of pros and cons.

As a noun, critique has several meanings.

A critique is an essay or article in criticism of a literary or artistic work, or institution: Listening to Grasshoppers is powered by a thorough critique of Indian democracy.

A critique is a review: He wrote a scathing critique of Elementary on Reddit.

Critique (no article) is the action or art of criticizing: Critique in art is one of the most important ways we can improve as artists.

As a verb, to critique has the related meanings of “to write a critique upon; to review; to judge critically, to make a critical assessment of or comment on (an action, person, etc.), not necessarily in writing”:

Students were required to critique each novel in depth.

Ravitch critiqued the evolution of the charter school concept from its beginning as a service of the public schools to a money-making project for the private sector.

Following the event, the chairman critiqued the performance of each committee member.

To maintain a useful distinction between the verbs criticize and critique, consider the context in which they are being used.

Perhaps the specialized meanings of critique can be preserved by thinking about context before using the word.

If a remark is simply an off-the-cuff negative comment, criticize will do.

If the thoughtful evaluation (positive and negative) of something is being offered, critique is the appropriate choice.

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1 Response to “Let’s Save “Critique” vs. “Criticize””

  • ApK

    I wish you luck. We’ve already lost “unique” and others, maybe you can save this one. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: When meaning shifts because it expresses a new idea, or adds color, enhances expression, or in almost any way has thought or intention behind it, it’s a sign of a healthy living language. When it shifts in a way that dilutes meaning, reduces clarity , and adds ambiguity, for no reason other than popular ignorance and laziness, it should be resisted.

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