It’s widely understood that carrots can keep your eyesight healthy, but as an editor, I’d argue that carets can help your eyes see better too (or they can at least help you notice things you might not have seen before). As for karats and carats, I suppose a certain amount of bling can make anything sparkle brighter.
Right? No? Well… are you at least with me when it comes to the definitions of these four words? “Carrots,” “Karats,” “Carats,” or “Carets.” Only one of them is something that you can grow in your garden.
- A “carrot” is an elongated root vegetable, which you probably imagine as orange, but rumor has it that this color only became the popular version of carrots after it was cultivated and celebrated in the Netherlands in honor of the Duke of Orange in the 1600s. I’m not convinced this story is actually true, but it’s a lovely rumor all the same. Besides orange, they can also come in white, yellow, and purple. The word “carrot” comes from the Middle French word carotte, the Late Latin word carota, and even further back from the Greek word karōton, which ultimately derives from the Indo-European root ker-, meaning “horn,” a reference to their long shape. Is that a mouthful of words? Yes. But it’s a healthy mouthful.
- A “karat” is a measure of the pureness or fineness of gold, and a “carat” is a unit of measure for gemstones, such as diamonds; however, these words can’t be used interchangeably. When you see 18k gold, this is referencing karats; however, referencing the “karats” of a gemstone is largely considered wrong. (No one likes being looked down upon in a jewelry store, so consider this your heads up.) Some will argue that it’s permissible to talk about “carats” of gold, making the mistake in the opposite direction—but why don’t you keep it safe and remember the difference. And speaking of fun etymologies (i.e., fun word backstories): “carat” comes from the name for the seed of a carob tree, because this was the standard weight comparison for small gemstones hundreds of years ago. A one carat diamond weighed the same as a carat (or carab tree seed). The Middle French word, carat, referenced either the purity of gold or the weight of gems (yep, one word for both!), and this came from the earlier Greek word, keration for that carob seed. Long story short, that “k” vs. “c” confusion is understandable.
- A “caret” (^) is a favorite mark of editors everywhere, used to show where an insertion needs to be made. Editors and wordsmiths might revel a bit to know that this mark gained its name from a derivation of the Latin word, carēre, meaning “to be lacking.” There’s a certain elegance and weight added to this symbol once you know its etymology, isn’t there? It’s more than an arrow. It has Latin editorial history behind it. How lovely is that? I’m guessing that’s not just my reaction.
- A “caron” (ooh, look, bonus word tip!) is a bit like an upside down caret (ˇ). It’s a mark that exists over letters in some Baltic, Slavic and Finno-Lappic languages to indicate a changed pronunciation. It’s also called a haček, wedge, inverted hat, hook, and flying bird, among other names. The “caron” word origin remains a bit of a mystery, but one of the leading theories is that it comes from a combination of “caret” and “macron,” the mark ( ¯ ) that exists over some vowels to stress the sound in some languages.
When it comes to “carrots,” “karats,” “carats,” or “carets,” spellcheck can’t help you. Maybe your eyes do just need an extra little bit of help. There are many things you can reach for in this moment: Red pens. Healthy vegetables. Something shiny. So many options.
Just make sure you know the difference.
Join over 1,000 subscribers and sign-up for my monthly writing and editing email newsletter for more tips like this.