Each week here at the Australian Writers’ Centre, we dissect and discuss, contort and retort, ask and gasp at the English language and all its rules, regulations and ridiculousness. It’s a celebration of language, masquerading as a passive-aggressive whinge about words and weirdness. This week we have a voracious appetite for books.
Q: Hey AWC, my friend claims to be a “veracious reader” but I’d like to verify that’s correct?
A: It’s not. They mean “voracious reader”.
Q: So, what’s the difference between “veracious” and “voracious”?
A: They’re both adjectives and sound almost identical when spoken out loud. This may be why many people get them confused – but they’re clearly different.
Q: Can we take a look?
A: Sure. Let’s start with the word “veracious” – from Latin “verus” meaning true. It turned up in English as an extension of the more well-known “veracity” in the late 1600s, and is all about speaking the truth.
A: “She gave a veracious account of the incident to the court.” It is something characterised by its truthfulness or honesty.
Q: My aunt Vera works at an insurance company, and she is constantly having to tell her clients that honesty is not the best policy.
A: Right, okay.
Q: So is “verify” related?
A: Yes, there are many, such as “verification” and “veritable”, “very” and even the name “Vera” that you’ll also find in “aloe vera”. You may also recall the word “verily” from Shakespearean times – it literally means “in truth”.
Q: “Verily, I say unto thee…”
A: Exactly! It’s considered archaic these days, so you’d only want to use that one if you also brought along a “hey” and a couple of “nonnies”.
Q: So what about “voracious”?
A: It’s the older, more well-known adjective – stemming from the lesser-known word “voracity” meaning greediness or ravenousness. Usually we associate this word with having “a voracious appetite” – what Macquarie Dictionary describes as “devouring or craving food in large quantities”.
Q: It sounds like my aunt Vora who enters pie eating contests.
A: Wait, you have an aunt VORA and an aunt VERA?
Q: Yes, of course. But I am struggling with ways to remember which word means what here. Any tips?
A: Do you mean besides the fact that you have two aunts named Vera and Vora?!
Q: This isn’t just about me. I’m talking about tips for everyone.
A: Right. Well, think of the O as a plate for all the food. Or simply think of all those “VER” words that mean truthful!
Q: So do you think people are confusing them simply because they look and sound the same?
A: People have been confused for much less.
Q: So someone would definitely be a “voracious reader of books” then?
A: Yes, because they want to devour them – although hopefully not literally.
Q: To recap: someone who is veracious tells the truth, while someone who is voracious wants to consume all the things – like books and pies.
A: That was a veracious statement.
If you have a grammar gripe or punctuation puzzle that you’d like our Q&A to explore, email it to us today!