Every week I will demonstrate an example of poor English where a different word is used from the one intended. Sometimes this creates a grammatically incorrect sentence. Unfortunately, the mistake is usually so pervasive that we all do it and such errors are usually made by those who should know better – journalists working for national or global media outlets such as newspapers and television
Venomous / Poisonous
This is one of those that a lot of people confuse – some do not even realise there is a difference. Most recently I saw it in Running with the Pack by Mark Rowlands who refers to venomous snakes and then avoiding them because they are poisonous. So… what is the difference?
Venomous – these creatures (usually animals rather than plants) inject toxins. This they do using fangs or a stinger. They puncture the skin so that they may inject their venom directly into the bloodstream. Snakes, bees and wasps are venomous. Snakes because they have fangs to bite and bees and wasps because they have a stinger to jab you with.
Poisonous – The difference here is that these do not inject toxins, merely the act of touching them is enough to transmit toxins. “Poisonous” also refers to those toxins that are inhaled or ingested. If you drink a harmful substance, it is poisonous. Stinging nettles and poison dart frogs are poisonous (both secrete and do not inject)