‘Diffuse’ or ‘defuse’?

The verbs diffuse and defuse sound similar but have different meanings. The literal meaning of defuse is to ‘remove the fuse from (an explosive device) in order to prevent it from exploding’, while the non-literal meaning is ‘reduce the danger or tension in’, such as:

The negotiator successfully defused the situation.

On the other hand diffuse means, broadly, ‘disperse’, as in:

The jackpot was diffused between many winners.

However, diffuse is also widely used, and can make sense when used to describe the lessening of danger (much in the same way defuse is used in this sense), for example:

Only peaceful dialogue between the two countries could diffuse tension.


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