Easily Confused Words

Easily Confused Words: Accidental vs. Occidental

Accidental and occidental 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.

Accidental (pronounced “ack-sih-den-tuhl”) is an adjective. It describes things that happen in an unplanned, unforeseen, or undeliberate way.

Accidentally is a related adverb.

Occidental (pronounced “awk-sih-den-tuhl”) is an adjective. It describes food, things or places in the West, from the West, or characteristic of the West. It is the opposite of oriental.

The dictionary does list people from the West in this word’s meaning, but the usage of this word and its opposite, “oriental” are old-fashioned and offensive. Issues surrounding “oriental” come up more often in the 20th and 21st century. Check out links at BBC news, at NPR, Oxford dictionary, and the blog JasonFongwrites.

Instead, people are described on a continental basis of their origins (European, South American, North American, African, Australian, Asian), or by their nationality.

The following story uses both words correctly:

Oceanne was on a road trip with Acacia.

After about one and half hours, she was getting tired of being on the road. So Acacia asked, “The sign says we’re  headed to Akron. Did you mean to be headed in an occidental , or western direction?” 

“No it was accidental, I really need to be headed in a northeastern direction, but my GPS eats up my phone battery so I was trying to get by without it. I need to head to Ashtabula.” 

This post relates to another post: Easily Confused Words: Occidental vs. Occipital.

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