Easily Confused Words: Tensile vs. Tinsel

Tensile and tinsel 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.

Tensile (pronounced  “tihn-suhl”) is an adjective. It describes something with tension or capable of being pulled, warped, or stretched out.

Tinsel (pronounced “tihn-suhl”) is a noun.

  • It means the silver plastic threads that are used to decorate Christmas trees.
  • It can also mean metallic cloth thread, which often spins the plastic metal strands with black fabric threads.
  • It can also mean very thin pieces of metal used to create a shimmering effect cheaply.
  • TRIVIA: An older nickname for Hollywood, CA is “Tinseltown.”

The following story uses both words correctly:

Tino and his baby brother Toby were helping to decorate the family Christmas tree. Tino had just placed the last bulb on the tree. He hadn’t noticed Toby had opened the tinsel. He pulled at multiple strands of it, stretching them between his fingertips as far as they would go. They burst in half. Toby was disappointed, he thought they would be as tensile as his silly putty. 

“Oh no, Toby! Give me that,” said Tino. “We can’t use this tinsel to decorate the tree now. Dad will have to pick up more later.”


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