Which Word Wednesday: Delusion vs. Illusion

By October 2, 2013 language No Comments


You’ve likely been inundated with news about our government’s little sabbatical (ahem), the reasons for which are many and complex. I do not claim special insight or analysis. Instead, I’m dedicating today’s Which Word Wednesday to the whole debacle by looking at delusion and illusion. I want to make sure your government commentary is properly worded. Let’s look first to the New Oxford American Dictionary:

delusion :: noun
an idiosyncratic belief or impression that is firmly maintained despite being contradicted by what is generally accepted as reality or rational argument, typically a symptom of mental disorder.

illusion :: noun
a thing that is or is likely to be wrongly perceived or interpreted by the senses.

Both words refer to the perceptions and beliefs someone holds as truth. But these words aren’t synonyms. A delusion is a wrong belief that’s held despite opposing evidence. And according to the definition, it’s possible the refusal to acknowledge reality is caused by a mental disorder—that’s pretty serious! An illusion, however, is a misperception caused by misleading information or sneaky presentation.

According to Rod Evans’s The Artful Nuance: A Refined Guide to Imperfectly Understood Words in the English Language, a delusion is often held due to self-perception,1 suggesting a desire to keep on with wrong beliefs, which begs the question, why? Why would someone want to continue on in wrong beliefs? Generally speaking, someone who has delusions prefers their version of reality, even if it isn’t real.

Apropos of our nation’s current situation, perhaps?

What’s my WWW verdict? Delusion, illusions—either way, reality is skewed.

What’s your verdict? Did you know the difference between delusion and illusion? How are you surviving the government shutdown? Do share in the comments.


Check out previous Which Word Wednesday verdicts here.



1. Rod L. Evans, The Artful Nuance: A Refined Guide to Imperfectly Understood Words in the English Language (New York, NY: Penguin Group, 2009), 68.

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