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The meanings of these two words seem the same, but their spellings are very different.

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Two words that are synonym of each other normally have different spellings. Why do you think they should have the same spelling? –  kiamlaluno Mar 16 '11 at 12:18
    
@kiamlaluno I don't know. I just think they have different root and should have some difference. –  dodo Mar 16 '11 at 13:35

2 Answers 2

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Something is universal if it is present everywhere. Something is pervasive if it has a tendency to spread through everything.

Describing something as 'universal' suggests an absoluteness to its widespread presence, as if it perhaps has always been that way, whereas describe something as 'pervasive' may refer to something that has infiltrated something else over a period of time, perhaps unexpectedly.

They have completely different origins: universality comes from "universe" meaning "all things", whereas "pervasiveness" comes from the verb "to pervade" meaning to diffuse through something.

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Something that is universal is something affecting, or done by all people or things in the world or in a particular group. Universality can also be used to mean "applicability on every cases."

Something that is pervasive is something spreading widely throughout an area or a group of people.
Pervasive is usually used for an unwelcome influence or physical effect; the other difference between universal and pervasive is that universal doesn't make any reference to how something has spread.

Ageism is pervasive and entrenched in our society.
The incidents caused universal concern.

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