Ethnic and ethic 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.
Ethnic (pronounced “eth-nihck”) is an adjective. It describes the different peoples or tribes that are reflected in a person’s DNA and the characteristics of their physical appearance.
Combinations of hair color, eye color, skin color, hair texture, skin characteristics reflect all the people that led to each person alive today. As people around the world have become more mobile and sought better economic opportunities, there’s been more blending and mixing among different ethnicities than when people had to travel on foot.
- In the phrase, “ethnic cleansing,” one group seeks to eliminate another group from a territory or country; this can include deportation, torture, and genocide. Examples of this in recent history happened in 1995 in Rwanda, and in the 1990s in Bosnia (a province in the former Yugoslavia.) Check out the link to learn more.
Ethic (pronounced “eth-ick’) is a noun. It means a standard for behavior, business practices, medical care, or another action.
- The plural form, “ethics” is a set of these standards. While each person likely has a personal set of ethics, a business or trade has a set of standards that were discussed by a board or other governing body, and collectively agreed upon.
- The phrase “work ethic” means possessing the focus and discipline to execute quality workmanship, working steadily during one’s shift, and holding oneself accountable for meeting high productivity and quality standards. In short, a person with a good work ethic doesn’t waste the company’s time or money with their efforts, and they earn their paycheck.
The following story uses both words correctly:
Ethel was eager to go to a job fair in her community. Some were conducting informal interviews, so she signed up for one. She sat down to chat with a representative at a new small business in town. “What makes you want to work for our company?” the representative asked. “I’m very curious about your industry, it’s experiencing tremendous growth lately. I am eager to get started somewhere, I have a high work ethic.”
“Well tell me a little more about yourself. Where are you from? What’s your ethnic background?”
Ethel’s face fell. “I don’t think that’s an appropriate question for a job interview. I could tell you about my work experience and education. But I’m too uncomfortable to continue here. I really think it’s best I move on to other appointments right now.” She got up and left. What choice did she have? If they didn’t know the rules for interviews, what else didn’t they know? What else might they expect their employees wouldn’t know either, expect them to just play along regardless?