On the Nextdoor website, (a platform for physical neighbors,) I posted on a discussion requesting recommendations for a company to widen their driveway. I saw some contractors promote themselves using the word "cement" while clearly meaning to say "concrete". I made comment that

I would be wary of any mason who calls "concrete" by the name "cement".

. Moments later, another user posts

Why? Cement is concrete and concrete is cement. Depends where you are from and how you were raised

Her response is factually wrong. Her response is also directly addressing me as being in the wrong. I know it's a trivial matter but I feel compelled to defend myself.

What would be a good way to handle this and similar situations?

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    Questions asking "What should I do?" are off topic for this site. Is there a particular goal you have in mind for your interaction with this person on social media? – sphennings Jul 3 '18 at 18:53

One of my dad's favorite jokes went something like this:

Somebody would mention a "hot water heater".

Upon such an utterance, my dad would immediately correct them and say "it is called a water heater, not a hot water heater. know why? because you don't need to heat hot water!"

And he felt himself very clever for saying things like this.

Everybody else just thought either A) he was a clever, funny person; or B) he was a jerk.

Generally the folks who thought he was clever were new to experiencing him, and anybody who had been around him for any significant length of time just thought he was a jerk.

Please notice that I did not make any mention at all about his factual correctness, for indeed he was factually correct.

I tell you that factual correctness is not equally prioritized by all people. Many, if not most, people think that a person who feels an overwhelming need to be factually correct is a pedantic snob or jerk, like my dad was.

I myself am a recovering pedantic jerk. I tell you that I was (or thought I was) nobly intended. I thought people wanted to be factually correct. They more often than not don't care about the difference between things like cement and concrete, and just see those who insist that terms are used correctly are "making them feel dumb" or "being superior" or "pompous". It is almost never taken in the spirit of helpfulness.

This has to do with being a layperson or an expert in a particular area. Most folks don't see a difference because they have had no need or desire to be educated on it.

In social media, such pedantry often erupts into flame wars, so I strongly invite you to consider the following course of action:

Do nothing. Leave it factually incorrect. It does no harm.

Or insist on factual correctness, and this will build a reputation for you and make the impression that it makes on others.

P.S. This answer does not care about the difference between cement and concrete, and I live in a place where the two terms (by laypeople) are used interchangeably.

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    Calling a water heater a "hot water heater" is redundant, but not wrong. Saying that concrete and cement are two different words for the same thing is wrong, according to lots and lots of sources. – swbarnes2 Jul 3 '18 at 19:38
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    @swbarnes2 for fear of making this too meta, I think making the distinction between the two situations is exactly the kind of thing this answer is warning against :) – scohe001 Jul 3 '18 at 20:40

For myself,I go with the old adage of picking your battles, when reading something I think is wrong and consider starting a debate on the issue I often stop myself halfway through my response and think is it really worth my time to try and debate them. Most of the time I decide it's not worth it, the people involved aren't a part of my outside life and leaving them misinformed doesn't hurt my conscience.

I would say if you do decide you'd like to open that debate be sure to have a link to a simply, yet respectable reference to back up your claim.

In either case I keep another adage in mind, 'you can't cure stupid', in general people don't like to have their beliefs challenged even when its something as trivial as there being a difference between cement and concrete, even with overwhelming proof you may find they won't accept your point, which brings me back to my first point of picking your battles.


Ignore it. This is a situation with zero stakes and zero importance. There is nothing to gain, and "handling" the situation is really not necessary.

If you absolutely must respond, posting the relevant dictionary entries and highlighting the difference is about as much as you can do. "Concrete is the combined material, cement is just the bonding agent in it, see these dictionary entries..." or something similar.

More broadly, definitions of words are usage- and context-dependent. It is true that concrete and cement are not the same in current, technical usage, and I would not be thrilled to find a mason or structural engineer equating them. But take a cue from the word literally, which now means "true exactly as stated" and also "in effect or in substance". Even dictionaries change, as lexicologists record language as it is used rather than prescribing how it must be used.

Your neighbor is 100% correct that the words may be used interchangeably in some places, and in most cases that most laypeople encounter there is probably no meaningful difference (consider: "What is that road made of? Concrete/Cement." The intended meaning is clear either way). Regionalisms may not be recorded in dictionaries but still have information content in their own locales.

In cases where the distinction matters then it's appropriate, perhaps absolutely necessary, to use the technically correct word. In nearly all other cases it's irrelevant, and if your neighbor is originally from an area where the usages are blended then she isn't wrong; that area just has to deal with ambiguity when discussing this particular topic.


For my understanding, I looked up the definition of both, and learned

"Cement is an ingredient for concrete. Concrete is basically a mixture of aggregates and paste. The aggregates are sand and gravel or crushed stone; the paste is water and cement. Cement comprises from 10 to 15 percent of the concrete mix, by volume. Source: https://www.ccagc.org/resources/whats-the-difference-between-cement-and-concrete/

The website also mentioned that cement and concrete are often incorrectly used interchangeably.

I would respond with an explanation for your first statement:

I received my information from X source, that these terms are used interchangeably, so I thought that a professional company would know to use the correct terms for their advertising. Here is the source, and I hope this helps you.

This approach places the miscommunication on the advertising company, not the "other user" for misunderstanding. If you say something that points to the person misunderstanding and being factually wrong, that is confrontational. Giving them the source will place the ball in their court to choose how to respond, and if they respond with the same statement, they have chosen not to listen, despite the warning.

In my experience, people would be glad of the information and continue research on their own, and you have done what you can in terms of keeping the peace and giving them a source of information without judgement.

If I were in that situation, I would not overexert myself to prove I was correct, if I already gave them the source of my information. The source should speak for itself, and you don't have to argue with the person further on whether it is right or wrong, the person can take it to the source of your information.

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