Make Your Editor Cry: Callus vs. Callous

Make Your Editor Cry:  Callus vs. Callous

The homonyms callous and callus sound the same, but they’re not. A callus is a rough patch of skin. Add an “-o” for “obdurate” and you get callous, an adjective meaning “insensitive to the feelings of others.” The words share a Latin root meaning “hardened,” but callus is a noun and callous is an adjective.

A callus is a place on the skin that’s thick from rubbing up against something. A callus is a spot where your skin becomes rough and thick. After wearing flip flops every day, all summer long, you’ll probably have a callus between your toes. Calluses can be annoying, but they’re helpful for some activities. In the old west, a city-slicker might snidely be referred to as a tenderfoot, due to the lack of calluses on his soles. If you’re learning to play guitar, calluses on your fingertips make it easier to press the strings down.

Examples:

If you develop a corn or callus, your doctor can help you safely remove the extra layers of skin.
Most telling are the smoothed calluses on his fingertips; one of his many jobs is playing the bass guitar for his local church.

Being callous means like acting like a callus—hard and insensitive. Ignoring someone’s plea for help would be a callous thing to do. A callous person is insensitive or emotionally hardened. Obdurate. If you laugh at your little brother while he’s trying to show you crayon drawing, you’re being callous. And maybe a jerk.

Examples:

The piece portrayed Tiger Woods as a callous cheapskate who enjoyed firing members of his entourage.
I was so often callous to the feelings of others and so selfish.

Now that we have that straight, here comes the curve ball. When you have a callus on your hand, your hand is calloused. That’s right. Calloused. To help keep it straight, remember that callus is a noun and callous and calloused are always adjectives. Here’s an example:

If New York is white gloves and executive suites with callous customer service, New Jersey is calloused hands and backs bent in honest labor along with service with a smile.

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