• 3-minute read
  • 7th November 2015

Word Choice: Cord vs. Chord

Homonyms are words that sound identical but differ in meaning. As you might have already found, these tricky terms can be problematic.

Fear not, though! Proofed is here to guide you through your vocabulary-based crises. Today in our ongoing Word Choice series, we tackle “cord” and “chord,” which are confusingly similar even before you get into their tangled etymologies (which, for the sake of simplicity, we’ll ignore).

Cord (A String or Rope)

The noun “cord” can mean a number of things, but the most common uses are to mean “a length of rope” or “an electrical cable.” Specifically, the term “cord” is used when describing flexible material thicker than a string but thinner than a rope, or the insulated wire connecting an electrical device to power source:

After wrestling Jeremy to the ground, Matilda hogtied him with a length of cord.

It was an hour before Boris realized his computer was missing its power cord.

Another common context in which the word “cord” appears is medicine, where it applies to certain anatomical structures (e.g., “umbilical cord,” “vocal cords”).

There are a few additional definitions too, such as a measurement for cut wood or the raised ribs on corduroy pants; these latter meanings are quite specialized though, so you probably don’t need to memorize them.

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Chord (A Pleasing Musical Arrangement)

The word “chord” is a noun describing “three or more musical tones being played simultaneously.” On guitar, for example, the chord C is composed of the notes C, E and G. As such, “chord” is usually found in musical contexts:

As soon as I heard the opening chords of “Born to Run,” I was an instant Springsteen fan.

Sometimes “chord” is also used metaphorically, such as when we say something “struck a chord” with someone, which means to have made an emotional impact or evoke a reaction:

Harriet didn’t care for politics, but the senator’s speech said had struck a chord with the whole crowd.

Cord or Chord?

Once you know what these words mean, it’s fairly easy to know which to use in any given situation. Simply ask yourself the following question:

  • Are you describing a length of flexible material or an electrical wire? Or an anatomical structure? If so, use “cord.”
  • Are you describing something musical? Or using the idiom “strike a chord”? If so, the term you’ll want is “chord.”

Keep these guidelines in mind to avoid mixing them up in your written work. And to make doubly sure your papers are free from this kind of mistake, you can’t beat the expert eyes of a professional proofreader.

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