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Scaring is related to the word scare, while scarring is related to the word scar.

Why is it that some dictionaries get these two words confused?

For example, when you use Mac OS X Lion's lookup feature on the word scaring, you get the result for scar instead of scare:

(Screen capture of an unidentified Apple application) The word "scaring" is highlighted in yellow and there's a caption-style popup below it. "*Dictionary* --- *scar | skär | noun* --- 1. a mark left on the skin or within body tissue where a wound, burn or sore has not healed completely and fibrous connective tissue has developed. 2. a steep high cliff or rock outcrop, esp. of limestone. --- *verb* --- mark with a scar or scars: (*-scarred*) --- scar·less *adjective*"

Looking at Apple's built-in Dictionary app gives us a bit more insight into the source of the problem. If you search for the word scaring, you get the following result:

(Screen capture of the OSX Dictionary) The search box on the top, as well as the left panel that shows the word being defined, contain "scaring". The right panel contains the following definitions: "**scar** |skãr| noun 1. a mark left on the skin or within body tissue where a wound, burn, or sore has not healed completely and fibrous connective tissue has developed: *a faint scar ran the length of his left cheek.* ∙a lasting effect of grief, fear, or other emotion left on a person's character by a traumatic experience: *the attack has left mental scars on Terry and his family.* ∙a mark left on something following damage of some kind: *Max could see scars of the blast.* ∙a mark left at the point of separation of a leaf, frond, or other part from a plant. 2. a steep high cliff or rock outcrop, esp. of limestone. (Middle English: from Old Norse **sker 'low reef'**; compare with skerry.) verb (**scars, scarring, scarred**) (with obj.) mark with a scar or scars: *he is likely to be **scarred for life** after injuries to his face, arms, and legs* | (as adj. in combination) (**-scarred**): *battle-scarred troops*. ∙(no obj.) form or be marked with a scar. DERIVATIVES **scar·less** adjective ORIGIN late Middle English: from Old French **escharre**, via late Latin from Greek  **eskhara 'scab'**. --- **scare** |ske(Ə)r| verb (with obj.) cause great fear or nervousness in; frighten: *the rapid questions were designed to **scare** her **into** blurting out the truth.* ∙drive or keep (someone) away by frightening them: *the threat of bad weather **scared away** the crowds.* ∙(no obj.) become scared: *I don't think I scare easily.* - noun - a sudden attack of fright: *gosh, that gave me a scare!* ∙(usu. with modifier) a general feeling of anxiety or ..."

Notice how it shows entries for both scar and scare. Notice, also, that scarring appears under the word scar. The entry for scare has no form ending in -ing:

(Screen capture of the OSX Dictionary) The search box on the top contains "scare". The left panel has a list of words starting with "scare" (highlighted), "scare-monger", "scare-mongering", ... on down to "scaredy-cats", "scaremonger", "scaremongering". The right panel has the definition for the highlighted word: "scare |ske(Ə)r| verb (with obj.) cause great fear or nervousness in; frighten: *the rapid questions were designed to **scare** her **into** blurting out the truth." ∙driver or keep (someone) away by frightening them: *the threat of bad weather **scared away** the crowds.* ∙(no obj.) become scared: *I don't think I scare easily.* - noun - a sudden attack of fright: *gosh, that gave me a scare!* ∙(usu. with modifier) a general feeling of anxiety or alarm about something: *they were forced to leave the building because of a bomb scare.* PHRASAL VERBS **scare something up** (informal) manage to find or obtain something: *for a price, the box office can usually scare up a pair of tickets.* DERIVATIVES **scar·er** noun ORIGIN Middle English: from Old Norse **skirra 'frighten',** from **skjarr 'timid.'**"

Had this only been an issue in Apple's OS, I would think it's a bug specific to that system. However, this appears in other dictionaries as well. The second result on Google for the word scaring is from The Free Dictionary, and their entry for scaring takes you to the entry for scar.

Why do some dictionaries get these words confused?

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closed as off topic by MετάEd, Urbycoz, waiwai933 Jul 25 '12 at 22:05

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Interesting bug you found, but not all Macs do that. (There were no scar references in my lookups, even after scrolling). –  J.R. Jul 23 '12 at 9:38
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@iennisei: Please add that as an answer. That said, I'm unsure about how on-topic this question is ... –  coleopterist Jul 23 '12 at 9:41
    
@coleopterist Done. I am also unsure how on-topic this is. –  ienissei Jul 23 '12 at 10:10
    
This isn't an American versus British English thing, is it? –  Andrew Grimm Jul 23 '12 at 13:10
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Off topic. This isn't about English usage. It's just a software bug. –  Mechanical snail Jul 24 '12 at 9:56

2 Answers 2

I think it may be a problem with computer-based dictionaries. The Apple one for instance takes the word you give it, removes any plural, -ing or -ed form it may have, and looks for the closest entries from the stem thereby obtained.

Since "scar" and "scare" are so close, it would show both, just in case (quite useful if you confuse words yourself). And since the pop-up version is a bit dumb, it shows only the first one (deemed closest). So, I think it is just a case where the AI does not work too well…

Hence, it is a software problem, not a language-related one (to sum up what the comments have suggested so far).

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The process of deriving the root form of a word is called stemming. Apple has a flaw in their stemming algorithm. –  donothingsuccessfully Jul 23 '12 at 18:12
    
Thanks, I didn't know it was called that (English is not my native language). –  ienissei Jul 23 '12 at 20:00

I suppose it's because you're leaving all the work to a machine.

Personally, when I want to look up the V+ing form of a Verb (scaring), I don't type that form as it is. First, I guess the base form (scare) then this is what I type for the search.

I just did this in fact, and I could instantly find the word "scaring" under the entry "scare" in all three dictionaries:

  1. The Free Dictionary (scare)

  2. Merriam-Webster (scare)

  3. Dictionary.com (scare)

The apps were just servants overeager to offer you all sorts of suggestions for what you might need.

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