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What's difference between ludicrous and ridiculous? Are they completely synonymous?

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up vote 2 down vote accepted

The NOAD reports the following notes:

Ludicrous applies to whatever is so incongruous that it provokes laughter or scorn ("a ludicrous suggestion that he might escape unnoticed if he dressed up as a woman"), and ridiculous implies that ridicule or mockery is the only appropriate response ("she tried to look younger, but succeeded only in making herself look ridiculous").

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Is that distinction really true? It strikes me that in your example, the words might be used interchangeably. In fact, even Merriam-Webster doesn't seem to make a clear distinction between them. – Ryan Jun 29 '11 at 20:40
I asked to my fiancé, who is American, and she told me that what reported by the NOAD is how she uses the words. To notice that the NOAD is an American English dictionary. – kiamlaluno Jun 29 '11 at 20:47
@Ryan: There is definitely a distinction, but it's very, very subtle; and the terms do have a huge amount of overlap. In my opinion, they are close enough that (1) using the "wrong" one will still be plenty accurate for virtually any context, and (2) so few people can actually discern the difference that skillful use of one over the other will probably be lost on your audience anyway. – John Y Jun 29 '11 at 22:47

Both terms are used to indicate absurdity; the subtle difference is that ludicrous means amusingly so, and ridiculous means inviting ridicule or mockery.

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Also, to us scrabble players, LUDICROUS + I = RIDICULOUS. – jackgill Jun 29 '11 at 19:46

Because M-W doesn't make a very clear distinction, at least in my mind, I think the most significant distinction is between their respective etymologies. Ridiculous comes from the same Latin word as, for instance, our deride. Ludicrous comes from the same word as the Latin word for game, and perhaps originally had some connotation of making a game or sport of something. In any event, in contemporary English, even in Merriam-Webster, significant distinction seems to be lost.

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