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Difference between "computation" and "calculation"?

Speed is calculated/computed as distance per time.
Speed is a quotient ratio of distance and time.

"Calculated" and "computed" can be used interchangeably, can't they ? In the first and the second sentences, which one is correct?

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did you mean :"Speed is a quotient/ratio of distance and time."? –  Theta30 Aug 12 '11 at 13:50
    
I imagine the votes to close are because most dictionaries define these two words in very similar terms. This doesn't prove there's no difference between them. –  FumbleFingers Aug 12 '11 at 13:53
    
@Baby Dolphin You can add a comment and clarify what you meant with the second question. As it is now, quotient ratio is redundant. –  Theta30 Aug 12 '11 at 14:05
    
@Bogdan Lătăianu: I didn't intend to endorse the apparent tautology, just correct the obvious typo. –  FumbleFingers Aug 12 '11 at 15:01
    
Another word with a similar meaning is "tally". –  starblue Aug 15 '11 at 19:36
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marked as duplicate by KitFox, Mr. Shiny and New 安宇, Alenanno, JSBձոգչ, Marthaª Aug 12 '11 at 13:53

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3 Answers

up vote 1 down vote accepted

I was surprised to find that computed hasn't obviously become more common since computers became more widespread. In fact, calculated continues to be used more often... enter image description here

At first I thought they might even be a rare example of true synonyms, but there are "idiomatic" contexts where only one word is used.

  • does not compute sometimes means makes no sense (always in the negative).

  • calculate sometimes means think, consider, believe (with no arithmetic involved).

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why is everybody except me ignoring the quotient/ratio thing? –  Theta30 Aug 12 '11 at 14:50
    
@Bogdan Lătăianu: It does look like out-and-out tautology, but here for example, is what looks like an intended usage by a competent speaker. Anyway, it's not big deal. –  FumbleFingers Aug 12 '11 at 14:59
    
@Bogdan Lătăianu: Ah, well, I'm not really a mathematician. I can see there is such a thing as a quotient ratio method, but I'm not sure if there are any other meanings for ratio, such that it might make sense to specifically speak of a quotient ratio as opposed to some other kind. –  FumbleFingers Aug 12 '11 at 17:19
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My local dictionary offers these definitions:

compute — calculate or reckon (a figure or amount)

calculate — determine (the amount or number of something)

So yes, they are entirely interchangeable.

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Oops! I now regret upvoting, since realising there are idiomatic usages that only occur with one or the other. –  FumbleFingers Aug 12 '11 at 14:18
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The meanings of compute are essentially:

  • calculate or reckon a figure or amount
  • make a calculation, especially using a computer
  • (informal, used with negative) seem reasonable; make sense

The meanings of calculate are:

  • determine the amount or number of something mathematically
  • determine by reasoning, experience, or common sense; reckon or judge
  • include as an essential element in one's plans

There is an overlapping between the meaning of the two words, and it is probable that many people don't use calculate only for a calculation made with a computer.

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