Easily Confused Words: Aberrant vs. Abhorrent

Aberrant and abhorrent 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.

Aberrant (pronounced “uh-bear-uhnt”) has multiple meanings.

  • As an adjective, it describes something tangential, something off course from the original path, action, or train of thought.
  • As a noun, it means someone or something in the state of being unusual, exceptional, or divergent in some way.

Abhorrent (pronounced “uhb-hore-uhnt”; rhymes with torrent) is an adjective. It describes something detestable, disgusting, or horrifying.

The related verb, abhor, means to feel intense hatred for something.

The following story uses both words correctly:

At a debate, Abhinav was writing about what each candidate had to say. He had studied political science and rhetoric in school, so he was wise to techniques others might miss.

A popular time-killer was the aberrant folksy tale about a candidate’s childhood or family. It gave the audience a warm, relatable feeling, but it took up time and failed to answer any real questions about policy. Abhinav found these habits abhorrent; they would never fly in ordinary job interviews. What mattered was could you do the job, and did you care about doing the job, especially in hard situations. 

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