Easily Confused Words: Toking vs. Token

Toking and token 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.

Toking is a verb. It’s the gerund form of the verb “toke.” To toke is to inhale from a cigarette, typically marijuana. Given marijuana has been illegal in the US for most of the 20th century, this verb isn’t in everyday use by most people.

TRIVIA: When US popular music on the radio mentions marijuana terms, that portion of the song often gets bleeped or jarbled on commercial radio. Examples include “toke” and “joint.”

Given Americans tendency to drop or slur their words, “toking” might sound like    “tokin’ ” in some situations.

Token is a noun with many meanings.

  • A literal token can be an embossed coin used for currency in bingo games, at fairs and carnival rides, or in video game arcades. Tokens can be used to play games, or indicate number of points a person has won. Tokens are used to “buy” prizes at different points levels.
  • Transit tokens are used for buses and subways to indicate payment was made for a passenger’s trip. All payments are made up front at the stations, and the token is a means for the drivers to monitor that all passengers are paid for without having to make change or run a register from the drivers’ seat.
  • A token can also be figurative. in the phrase “token of appreciation”, someone might gives a gift to demonstrate thanks for the other person’s hard work or effort when help was needed.
  • A token can mean a trait, symbol, characteristic, or emblem: For example, a high temperature is a token of illness. A badge is a token of police work.
  • A token can be another way of saying memento or souvenir, a material item that reminds a person of an experience they had.
  • A token can be a member or representative of a larger group. Critics of corporate or movie casting diversity might call a unique character a token because they are the only one: the only man among women, the only person of color among a group of white people, etc. This last meaning isn’t very polite.

The following story uses both words correctly:

Tohkieto had a job working as a payment and token dispensing clerk for the subway system.The pay was alright, but it was dreadfully boring. Every chance he got for a break, he was toking joints and daydreaming about being an international spy.


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