Thursday, 3 February 2011

Diffuse vs Defuse

The words diffuse and defuse are frequently confused in Indian publications, probably because they sound so similar. Here are three examples:
  • The Zakir Nagar area near Jamia Nagar in southeast Delhi was tense after mobs surrounded an Uttar Pradesh police team and allegedly beat them up when they came to arrest an accused wanted in a burglary case in western Uttar Pradesh. The SHO of Jamia Nagar had to lead a team to the area to diffuse the tension. (Times of India, Jan 20, 2011)
  • The Congress central leadership has promptly swung into action to diffuse the crisis in Andhra Pradesh when a group of newly sworn-in ministers rebelled against the chief minister Nallari Kiran Kumar Reddy protesting that they were given insignificant portfolios. (Live Mint, Dec 02, 2010)
  • The police are likely to hold similar recruitment drives in all the other areas of the old city. The police see the drive as a move to diffuse another "possible uprising" in 2011. (India Today, Jan 13, 2011).
Funnily enough, they have nearly opposite meanings: to diffuse means 'to spread something' (information, ideas etc.) whereas to defuse a situation, crisis or tension is 'to calm things down', 'to reduce tension, stress or emotions'. It is easy to remember the distinction: the literal meaning of defuse is 'to de-fuse a bomb', i.e. to remove the fuse of a bomb so that it does not explode.