Get Smart — Similar-Sounding Occupations You Don’t Want to Mix Up

January 27, 2014 Updated: July 18, 2015

You know a friend working at a space observatory—but imply instead that he gazes into crystal balls for a living. Or mistakenly suggest that your kid be the sort of doctor that studies the nature of matter—rather than finding out what’s the matter with patients.

Check out this list to avoid incredulous looks and other awkward conversation moments.


1) Astrologist vs Astronomer


(Image of stargazing via Shutterstock)

Both occupations involve the study of celestial bodies, as suggested by their ‘astro’ prefix.

Astrologists reveal how the position of stars affect your love life, fortunes and other earthly affairs.

Astronomers, however, are more interested in a scientific (theoretical or observational) study of the origins and physical properties of stars, as well as their motion in space.

Still confused? Equipment, equipment, equipment. Astrologers consult horoscopes and crystal balls, while astronomers tote star charts and telescopes.


2) Geologist vs Geographer


Which “geo” should study this scene? (Scenic view image via Shutterstock)

We return from space with these two ‘geo’ (earth) occupations.

To understand the physical composition of Earth, for example mud, rock, water, and oil—ask a geologist.

To understand how humans interact with Earth, for example human’s biological, social, and environmental impact on nature—ask a geographer.

Still confused? The University of California Santa Barbara Department of Geography has a good analogy: “Geology is to geography what natural history is to history.”


3) Hematologist vs Hepatologist


Know your medical specialist (Clinicians image via Shutterstock)

The difference in a single syllable differentiates a medical specialist who deals with blood related issues (hematologist) and one who handles a specific range—affecting the liver, gallbladder, pancreas and biliary tree—of digestive system maladies (hepatologist).

Still confused? Alcoholics and hePatitis sufferers consult hePatologists, while heMophiliacs consult heMatologists.


4) Histologist vs Historian


“Tissues? No, I don’t have any.” (Academic image via Shutterstock)

Academic historians debate endlessly about what history is, but won’t disagree that their discipline at its most basic is a study of the past.

The histologist’s job is more clearly defined—they study the microscopic structures of animal and plant tissues and cells.

Still Confused? The ‘histo’ prefix in both words may confuse—if it was actually a “prefix” for both. The ‘histo’ in histologist stems from the Greek word for tissue. The prefix for historian is really ‘historia’, which is Greek for ‘finding out, narrative, history.’