Easily Confused Words: Curate vs. Cultivate

Curate and cultivate are easily confused words.

The spell-check application of most word processing software programs would not catch a slip-up of these two words. Spell-check is looking for words that aren’t in its dictionary, and words that resemble words in its dictionary but are possibly spelled wrong. Spell-check isn’t perfect. It doesn’t know and can’t guess what word you wanted or what word you meant, it can only judge the words on the page. If you used words that are all spelled correctly, it gives you a pass anyway.

Autocorrect suggests words that start with the same letters. It’s suggesting what word you may want to save time, but quite often, its suggestions are pretty off base. They don’t help you out, but they do make you laugh.

Curate has multiple meanings. In the US, the verb form is the most familiar. To curate means to create a collection with great attention to detail. A person in a museum planning gallery shows, and what work will make up those shows is called “a curator.”

Online, a person managing their social media presence and branding is also “curating” when they share content. Usually what that curator is sharing is related to their profession, their expertise, and news in the profession.

DJs also curate their music choices so the sounds flow together with smooth, logical transitions, not sudden jumps like a slow crunk to a pulsating electronica dance beat. Fashion buyers are also described as curating when they pick which seasonal styles should make up a collection at a store.

Curate is also a noun, meaning the person who assists a vicar or rector. This term is mainly used in the UK.

Cultivate is a verb. To cultivate means to raise or grow plant life, but it can also have a more abstract meaning. CEOs and managers want to cultivate certain attitudes within their businesses among their staff. This type of cultivation is usually done by promotion, frequently speaking about those issues, and leading by example. Cultivation is not an overnight thing, it’s done over time, it has patience to tolerate slow growth and occasional setbacks.

The following story uses both words correctly:

Culpepper was hired to curate online content for a local Community Services nonprofit. He was so good at it that his responsibilities quickly grew to handling all their PR. In all his work, he tried to cultivate an attitude of “we’re all in this together” and the community responded warmly. 

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