Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: Separate and distinct, detached from any others that might be similar or related.
Notes: Today's Good Word is often confused with its homophone (word pronounced the same), discreet "prudent, circumspect so as not to cause embarrassment to others". Just remember that discrete and discreet are two discrete words that you do not have to be discreet in using. Discrete is distinguished by the fact that its T stands between its two discrete Es. You may use the adverb discretely and the noun, discreteness, discreetly or indiscreetly.
In Play: Separate is fuzzier than discrete; discrete emphasizes separateness and distinctness: "This problem may be reduced to three clearly discrete issues." If a company has three separate divisions, the divisions may have little autonomy; however, if the divisions are discrete, they must have considerable autonomy.
Word History: The Latin word discretus, from which English borrowed today's Good Word, is the past participle of the irregular verb discernere "to separate, take apart", made up of dis- "apart" + cernere "to distinguish, to perceive". As you can see, we also borrowed the present tense of this verb for our discern. English also borrowed the French word discret which had drifted off to the meaning "discerning, prudent" and spelled the two discrete and discreet, often confusing them as we still do today. By the 17th century the two spellings and the two meanings had aligned themselves to the match we have now. (Today we very indiscreetly offer our discrete thanks to Marleen Adams for suggesting today's often confusing Good Word.)
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