Which Word Wednesday: Patience vs. Patients

By October 15, 2014 language No Comments

Years ago, I was with my friends in Florida on our beach retreat, and we stopped for dessert at a local ice cream parlor. (Yes, I do believe retreats should be at the beach, with ice cream.) There was a handwritten sign posted on the restroom door with a message something like this:

Please have patients. We have just one restroom.

And that, folks, is why I have steady work as an editor and steady fodder for Which Word Wednesday. Let’s see if we can make a distinction between patience and patients, starting with the definitions from The Oxford American Dictionary:

patience :: noun
the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset

patient :: adjective
able to accept or tolerate delays, problems, or suffering without becoming annoyed or anxious

patient :: noun (plural, patients)
a person receiving or registered to receive medical treatment

Patience is the word the ice cream shop needed for its sign. They were asking customers to tolerate a wait for the single restroom in the shop. The sign was, instead, asking customers to have patients—to have people needing medical treatment, which makes no sense whatsoever. Or the sign could have said: Please be patient. You can be patient as you wait. But you cannot have patients while you wait, unless you are personifying a waiting room that would claim it has patients. This video says it all:

What about this for a memory hook?

You practice your patience by being patient. > both practice and patience have Cs

What’s my WWW verdict? You can practice patience but you cannot have patients. (Unless you work in the medical field.)

What’s your verdict? Have you gotten confused over patience and patients? Have you seen painful signs on vacation? Do share in the comments.


Check out previous Which Word Wednesday verdicts here.


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