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Which Word Wednesday: Coarse vs. Course

By September 11, 2013 language No Comments
2012 National Club Cross Country Championships, Lexington, Kentucky. Mike Straza is in there somewhere.

2012 National Club Cross Country Championships, Lexington, Kentucky. Mike Straza is in there somewhere.

Although fall doesn’t officially kick off for another 11 days, I tend to think of Labor Day as the beginning of the season. School has started, football is on, the leaves are changing, and—my favorite:

There are cross country meets to watch.

It’s part nostalgia, part love for running that makes me happy to watch a sea of junior high or high school runners loop two to three miles on a Saturday morning. During last weekend’s races, a Which Word Wednesday match-up came to mind. It’s the difference between coarse and course—one of these being the word to describe the route the runners take in the race. Let’s look first to the New Oxford American Dictionary:

coarse :: adjective
rough or loose in texture or grain; (of a person or their speech) rude, crude, or vulgar.

course :: noun
the route or direction followed by a ship, aircraft, road, or river.

This may be the most straightforward WWW ever. Cross country runners race along a course, with a U. In no context would a cross country race be referred to as coarse, with an A . . . unless the route was rough or vulgar—which is possible, I guess! I ran a few routes in my CC days that I would call rude.

The good news is that because coarse and course are homophones, usage isn’t an issue unless you are writing about cross country—then you need to know your A coarse from your U course. Here’s a memory hook based on the A and U:

  • coArse with an A describes rough hAir or sAnd
  • coUrse with a U is a roUte for cross country rUnning

What’s my WWW verdict? Cross country routes are courses—although, sometimes cross country routes can be coarse, depending on the terrain or the runners.

What’s your verdict? Do you know your A coarse from your U course? Are you a cross country fan? What do you love about fall? Do share in the comments.

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Check out previous Which Word Wednesday verdicts here.

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