Easily Confused Words: Alienation vs. Annihilation

Alienation and annihilation 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.

Alienation (pronounced “ailee-uh-nay-shun”) is a noun. It means a feeling of abandonment and isolation. This can be physical or emotional.

Annihilation (pronounced “uh-neye-uh-lay-shun”) is a noun. It means a devastating defeat or utter destruction of someone, or something, else.

The following story uses both words correctly:

Annie wasn’t sure she liked her peer group at prep school anymore.

It started with the alienation of a new girl, Zoey, from a lower income neighborhood. Andrea, the leader of Annie’s clique, demanded they take turns picking on the girl for her clothes. Zooey just shrugged it off. Andrea decided that wasn’t enough.

She suggested they ridicule other girls who reached out to her, trash her locker, and get her in trouble with teachers. The goal? Total social annihilation for this girl from the wrong side of the tracks. Annie said nothing back, but she felt like this was really wrong; she didn’t understand why Andrea hated Zoey. 

After a fairly sleepless night, Annie went to school and met with the guidance counselor about what happened. Later that afternoon, Andrea was called to the office and put on suspension for the rest of the week. In her absence, Annie befriended Zoey. The other girls in the clique–Gretchen, Livvy, and Ceci– followed her lead.


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