Writing for Business

Feb 1 2013   1:43PM GMT

appropriate vs. expropriate

Ivy Wigmore Ivy Wigmore Profile: Ivy Wigmore

Which is correct?
I just have one question, before we adjourn: Who ____________ the X-Box from the lounge?
a. appropriated
b. expropriated

Answer: Either, although expropriated is more precise.

Appropriate (as a verb) and expropriate both mean to take something from someone else but expropriate also means to deprive someone of what you’re taking away, which is not necessarily the case with appropriate. If someone removes the X-Box from the staff lounge, that means that other employees won’t be able to gather for their noon Zumba Fitness Rush.

Expropriation suggests a high-handed approach, taking something through power, even if we might consider it to be an abuse of power or power assumed where it is not legitimate. The person who took the X-Box didn’t have the right to take it, they just went ahead and did it.

We often hear about government expropriation of property — the government, being the government, just takes it. They may pay the owner but they don’t give them the option of refusal.

Appropriation is often used to refer to the adoption of something that is not rightfully yours, although not necessarily depriving the rightful owner. It’s cultural appropriation, for example, when a Victoria’s Secret model struts down the runway in her skivvies and a Native-inspired war bonnet. In Literature, it’s considered appropriation of voice when one writer patterns their work on the distinctive style of another.

Grammarist looks at appropriate vs. expropriate and provides some examples of use.

Follow me on Twitter @tao_of_grammar

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