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.
Discreet / Discrete
I had to stop and think about this one yesterday. They are not every day words and they sound identical when pronouncing and their meanings are quite similar so it is not really surprising when we do have to stop and think about the difference. Apparently, the words are Latin in origin and come from the same word which had two meanings.
Discreet – respecting the right to privacy or keeping a secret that has been told to you.
Discrete – Meaning separate or individual. For example, the talent show The X-Factor has four discrete categories – Boys, Girls, Groups and over 25s (is that right?)
In a way they do mean the same thing – the act of keeping something distinct. In one case, information is being kept separate from common knowledge and in the other, the categories are kept separate from each other.