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Vocabulary Wars: Scattered vs. Sporadic

A listener called me out for saying that power outages Wednesday morning were “sporadic” when they were actually (in his humble opinion) “scattered”.

I am not the vocabulary king, but I do have Google, and now I’m confused. Where do YOU weigh in in this vocabulary war?

Here’s the original e-mail I received:

This morning JoJo repeatedly talked on air about “sporadic” power outages. Does he mean sporadic or scattered? There is a big difference, and if he’s gonna provide useful information to the public, it would help if he were using the words that mean what he says.

Thank you.

And here’s my response:

I got your note, and I thought, “you know what, I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed, I’ve probably misunderstood the word as used in the past,” so I Googled sporadic and this came up:




Definition:  Occurring at irregular intervals or only in a few places; scattered or isolated.

So sporadic MEANS scattered, so now I’m really confused.

Especially since the root word for sporadic is Latin from Greek sporadikos, from sporas, sporad-‘scattered’

Where did I go wrong, exactly?


PS — Of all the errors on the show Wednesday, that may have been the least.

Listeners seem to be on both sides of the fence on this one, as some agree with the e-mailer, saying that sporadic is more closely aligned with “intermittent”, which is different than widespread or scattered, which is what I was trying to convey.

So what do you think?  And if you’re a college language instructor, you carry the most weight in this argument.  Unless I disagree with you.



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