Easily Confused Words: Fatwa vs. Patois

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.

Fatwa is a Arabic noun. It means a Islamic religious decree issued by an ulama, or a doctor of Islamic law. Given US involvement in the Middle East in the last 35 years, this word is heard more often in the news today than it was before.

Patois is French noun. It’s pronounced “pat-wah.” It means in the speech or vernacular of a specific region.

The following story uses both words correctly:

Dr. Patrice Patton studied religion and ethics in school, with an emphasis on Judaism and Christianity. When asked to comment on Islamic law, he said,  “Sorry, fatwas aren’t in my area of expertise, and Arabic isn’t in my patois, but I can refer you to someone else: Dr. Fatima Fateeshah.”


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