Today’s Word Nerd is an exercise in specificity. All three of these words are closely related, with the same root. At some point they separated into distinct but similar meanings. We’ll look at the difference between insure, ensure and assure.
ensure: to secure or guarantee, to make sure or certain, secure or safe from harm.
insure: to guarantee against loss or harm, or to purchase or sell an insurance policy.
assure: to state with confidence, to cause to know surely, to pledge or promise; to secure or confirm.
All three of these words migrated from French to English between 1325 and 1450, and all are variations of the Latin word securus, which is a combination of two words, se (“without”) and cura (“care”); secure literally means “no worries,” and all three of these words are variations on that theme. Assure shows up first, around 1325 or so, followed by ensure about 25-50 years later, which then split off the insure variant another 50 years later, as the difference between making sure of something and guaranteeing it came into practice.
When you ensure something, you take action to prevent anything from going wrong. When you insure something, you arrange to have it repaired or replaced if anything should go wrong. When you assure something, you check to make sure that it has been ensured and/or insured, or promise somebody that you have done so.
If you ensure your car, you’re inspecting it and making necessary repairs.
If you insure your children that Santa is coming, you take out a policy that will pay if he’s a no-show.
If you assure that the road is safe, you’re telling somebody that you checked it out already.
Today’s word nerd was suggested by fellow GeekDad Anton Olsen. Thanks, Anton! If you want to suggest a word or phrase, please email MacQ@geekdad.com.