Monday, January 18, 2016

Exasperate & Exacerbate

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.

Listen to Mike’s program in real time every Tuesday morning, 9:10 - 10:00 a.m. EST, by going to and clicking on Listen Now. You’ll also find about a month’s worth of podcasts there under The Ron Jolly Show.


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