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Dissemble / Disassemble–“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter—it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”  Mark Twain

Check this category every week for a new set of ceaselessly confused, misused or misspelled words to master. Break the cycle of language abuse! 

When you put something together, you assemble it—like a jigsaw puzzle or a Lego kit or a roomful of IKEA furniture. But when it’s time to take it apart and move it somewhere, you might need to disassemble it so that you can fit it back into the box. You might not want to after all that work assembling it, but unless you live in a warehouse with unlimited storage, sometimes you just have no choice but to disassemble what you have assembled. Alas.

OK. Easy enough.

But when you tell your roommate that you have disassembled that giant jigsaw but you have really just slid it under your bed, you are dissembling or misrepresenting the truth. And when you tell your mom that you donated all those old books and CDs but you really hid them in a box in the basement marked “Summer Clothes,” you have dissembled again by concealing the truth.

So when you dissemble, you are not assembling or disassembling anything. Instead, you are distorting the truth, twisting the facts, creating an alternate reality. Or maybe you’re just flat-out lying.


Each of these writers should have used disassemble or disassembled because they’re all trying to take something apart. Instead they are using a word that means that they are concealing the truth—and that is either not the vibe they want or it just makes no sense in this context.

Your Turn

Fill in the blanks with the correct word. Use whatever endings (-ing, -ed, -er) fit the context. (Find the answers on the Bazaar / Bizarre page.)

  1. The identical twins were a __________pair, one often pretending to be the other.
  2. The auto shop kids __________the principal’s entire VW bug in the parking lot before the substitute realized what they were doing.
  3. The crafty squirrel __________the door mechanism of the bird feeder and dumped all the seen onto the lawn.
  4. As it turns out, Dr. Witherspoon wasn’t a doctor at all. He __________his way into a job without ever going to medical school.
  5. In the film Catch Me If You Can, Leonardo di Caprio plays a __________ con man who cashes millions of dollars of bad checks and pretends to be a doctor, a lawyer and an airline pilot.
  6. You __________ little __________! Instead of mowing the lawn, you __________the lawn mower!
  7. In preparation for the new furniture delivery, he _________the sofa and end tables and put it all out on the curb in a pile for the heavy pickup truck. Then he __________the kitchen table and chairs and put all that out. Finally, he __________the bedroom set and hauled all of those pieces out to the street. His wife, who was away visiting friends, called him and said, “Surprise! The new furniture came today while you were at work. My mom let them in. Isn’t it great? They hauled away all the old stuff at no extra charge! How does it look?”