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Flammable vs. Inflammable

January 2017
Spot the Error

Scott was a survivalist who built his home with steel to make it inflammable.

Did you know that flammable and inflammable mean EXACTLY the same thing—easily ignited and burned.

I know what you’re thinking. “If ‘in-’ means the opposite of (as in ‘incapable,’ ‘intolerant,’ and ‘indecisive’), then inflammable should mean the opposite of easily ignited and burned.” Yes, that would be true IF the word’s origin were English. But, that’s not the case.

The origin of inflammable is Latin: “in” meaning to cause to and “flammare” meaning to catch fire … to cause to catch fire … the same as flammable. Here’s another little tidbit for you: inflammable has been in use much longer than flammable. Go figure.

So, in cases where you want to describe something that will not ignite, such as in the “steel” sentence above, use nonflammable.

~ Thank you, Dennis O., for your topic suggestion.

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