Monday, January 18, 2016
Last week, I listened to a speaker confuse the words exasperate and exacerbate. “This will only exasperate the problem,” he said, actually meaning exacerbate. It’s becoming a common mistake, primarily because the pronunciation is so close.
Originally, the two words were nearly interchangeable, referring as they did to severity. Exasperate was built on a Latin word that meant rough or harsh. Exacerbate was based on a Latin word that meant bitter or harsh.
But over the centuries, the words settled into individual niches. Exacerbate now refers to worsening a situation, especially one involving distress, pain, disease, or emotions. The synonym to focus on is the word worsen:
· The prairie fire was exacerbated by months of drought.
· Deliberately hostile language will exacerbate the difficulty of negotiations.
· The dust storm will exacerbate her congestion.
Exasperate means to provoke to anger or irritation. Think of the synonym annoy:
· The long lines at the airport exasperated me.
· She let out an exasperated sigh and left the room.
· Teenagers instinctively know how to exasperate their parents.
In summary, exasperation is internal; it’s a feeling of irritation that I experience. Exacerbation is external; it involves a situation or problem outside me.
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