Thursday, March 30, 2006

The difference between choose and decide

My partner, Chris, and I were debating the other day about whether there was a difference between choosing and deciding. He insisted that we would not have 2 words for the same thing: if the words were different, there was a reason. I pointed out that the words probably came from two different languages (they do - choose has an Old English root and decide has a Latin root). And Chris was triumphant: if they came from different languages, they also came from different experiences! How can you argue that?

More to the point, I lost momentum because the little voice in the back of my head was reminding me (loudly) that Chris always has a reason for making these seemingly eccentric distinctions and I should probably pay attention. So I have checked the usual range of dictionaries and find that they all use "decide" as a definition for "choose." While that supports my side of the argument, it doesn't help me notice my blind spot (Chris always helps me find my blind spot!).

I notice as I consider how the two might be different, that we make both choices and decisions, but we are given them in different ways. When someone gives us a choice, the decision is ours; when someone gives us a decision, the decision is theirs. I also notice that it feels natural to say "I choose" and less natural to say "I decide," although we are likely to soften both by saying "I made a decision or I made a choice." When we are actually making a decision, we announce it as the result of facts more often than of choice. We say, "because of A, therefore B". Not "because of me, therefore B". Or, "given the facts, I had no choice but to decide. . ."

I remember again that the words that have come down to us from Old English are simple and powerful, words that connect us directly with experience. I think of the power of the simple imperative "Choose" and how different it is from "You have to make a decision."

Chris is not always right. I just wouldn't make any money if I chose to bet against him when he presses for more rigorous distinctions.


Joleen S said...

I was doing a search on the difference between choose and decide and found your blog entry. Very insightful and makes a great the difference clear. In fact, I quoted it on FB (crediting your blog URL of course). Thanks. Joleen

shalom said...

To choose is easy, you just point and pick without any taking any time for a somewhat careful deliberation in order to come to a knowledgeable conclusion which I believe is what is implied in saying that one has made a decision. Bill Gates can rarely make an actual decision if he wants to buy something, because there are way too many options, he can buy whatever he wants. I think that making a decision involves a certain level of knowledge of what one is getting oneself into. When Bill Gates wants to take his wife out to dinner, he can take her to any restaurant in the world within a few hours on his private jet. Russia, China, LA, NY, Milan, Paris, Romania, etc.. He can't really decide on what he wants given that many options. He probably asks his wife what she wants, if its Chinese, he gets online, looks at the most expensive Chinese place in town and goes. Sure he chose something but he probably didn't really deliberate in order to make a decision for it is likely that he knew very little on the subject. So there is a possible distinction between choose and decide.