April 3, 2014
Weekly Language Usage Tips: duplicate or replicate
Tip: Replicate or duplicate
A reader writes:
Is there a difference between replicate and duplicate? People seem to use them synonymously. Are they the same?
This is a tough one because we DO use them synonymously these days. Let’s start with ‘duplicate’ which means to make an exact copy of something. The word, itself, has a strong sense of ‘two,’ and that is how it used to be used—meaning that we make one copy of something. However, these days, we often use it to talk about multiple copies, and I think the meaning involving many copies is standard now.
I think of ‘replicate’ a little bit differently. If you replicate something, you repeat it. It can be a duplicate, but not necessarily. For instance, in science, we replicate experiments to show our ability to reproduce the results, that is, we hope to duplicate the experiment and the result. But that doesn’t always happen. We can replicate the experiment, but we don’t always duplicate the result.
Does that make sense?
That being said, if you look up ‘replicate’ in a dictionary, one of the definitions is often ‘duplicate.’ So maybe, the distinction is limited to the field of science and also to copying CDs where the methods of copying are quite different depending on whether you are replicating or duplicating the CD. (I’m not going to get into that.)
Bottom line: Maybe we can use them synonymously.,jut think about the context. That counts.