Each week, we chat about the quirks and anomalies of the English language. This week, we’re extinguishing any confusion between two similar words…
Q: Hi, I have a quick question.
A: Well you’ve come to the right place.
Q: Seriously? But we usually ramble on. I need this to be answered quickly.
A: All good. Fire away.
Q: Ha ha, imagine if I was asking about fire extinguishers and you’d said that.
Q: Okay, so it’s about ‘invoke’ and ‘evoke’. I’m confused about which one to use – if I say them fast enough they almost sound the same.
A: Right, because that matters how?
Q: I dunno, it was just reassuring to me. So, do they mean the same thing?
A: Well, no, but it’s a close relationship. They’re both in the ballpark of ‘calling upon’ or ‘bringing something out’.
Q: Ah, okay, like when I call upon my grandma and she brings out a slice of cake and some homemade lemonade?
A: Nothing remotely like that. ‘Invoke’ is typically a more direct and active participant – your actions physically invoke something; you summon something. “The writer invoked the style of Shakespeare” would mean drawing it out for the purpose of doing something.
Q: So how does that differ from ‘evoke’?
A: Evoke is more of the ‘effect’, so a passive result of doing something. So your questions evoke a response. The play evoked sadness from everyone who saw it. It’s something that is ‘called forth’ as a result.
Q: Was the play sad, or was it just the quality of the acting?
A: Next question.
Q: Fine. So yeah, that sort of explains it. But gee, there’s not much daylight between the two.
A: True, but enough. You invoke in a ‘summoning’ way towards yourself, while you or your actions are more likely to evoke fluffy stuff.
Q: Marshmallows? Cotton wool? Bunny rabbits? Any of these?
A: No, fluffy stuff like intangible emotions. Something ‘evokes’ feelings in someone else. And it’s generally about the recipient. It’s like evoke = draws out, and invoke = calls upon. Evoke elicits and invoke solicits.
Q: Vokey dokey. Haha, see what I–
A: Yes, we see. And while we’re here, ‘provoke’ and ‘revoke’ belong to a similar family, but their roles are more distinct. For example, if you keep provoking us with stupid jokes, we will have to revoke your question-asking privileges.
Q: Got it. So ‘-voke’ – what’s the deal with that?
A: It’s from Latin voc-, originally vox (as in ‘vox pop’) to mean voice. We see it in lots of other words like vocabulary, vocal, advocate and even vocation.
Q: Phew, I sure feel like I need a vocation after all that…
Q: Haha, just trying to evoke some kind of response. And it worked.
A: Very good. Now put the fire extinguisher back.
Q: Absolutely. Wouldn’t want to invoke your wrath…
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