What’s the difference between deception and deceit?

difference between deception and deceitHere’s another confusing pair of words. Deceit and deception are both nouns, both loosely used to describe the act of deceiving. The act of deceiving being the act of concealing the truth or otherwise being misleading or false. In many situations the words can be used interchangeably – grammatically speaking it is rare that you will find a sentence where both words do not fit in the same sentence without the same general meaning. However, the sentences may offer different connotations.

We might say:

  • They used a clever piece of deception to pull off their plan. BUT:
  • His deceit, though successful, was deplorable.

We might also swap the words, and have a clever piece of deceit or a deplorable deception, but these would be less typical uses in English. Why? Because, generally speaking, deceit is worse than deception. Deceit suggests malevolence, or, more simply, a negative intent. Deception is more neutral. Though deception in general is often connected to negative activities it does not, on its own, suggest wickedness.

There is deception involved in magic tricks, for example. Deceit, on the other hand, is mostly used for something will bad intent. If you described as magician’s act as using deceit, you would be suggesting it was a bad thing. Not that he simply performed tricks but that his tricks were somehow unwelcome.

Consider the following two sentences for the difference:

  • The magician employed a careful deception to make the car disappear.
  • The magician employed a careful deceit to make the car disappear.

The first sounds like an innocent trick, the second sounds like he stole it. As with many of the subtly different words in English, this difference won’t always be relevant or interpreted this way – but in some cases it may be very important!

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