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Medically speaking, flu is a derivative of influenza; but in common usage flu includes colds and other flu-like symptoms. Influenza is a condition caused by specific viruses. While colds are also caused by a virus, the viruses are different and distinct and produce different though similar symptoms.

I want to find another example of words that describe specific as well as global situations/conditions that are used interchangeably by the public yet have distinct technical differences.

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closed as not constructive by simchona Jan 10 '13 at 16:33

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Hacking vs. cracking is probably one. You might want to browse through the ambiguity tag page for other candidates. – coleopterist Jan 10 '13 at 14:15
madness: insanity; the state of being mentally ill, esp. severely. Also, any emotion of abnormal degree in general. Also, a layman's term for rabies. Also, (ah well, don't start getting mad now). – Kris Jan 10 '13 at 15:08
The word flu has no other meaning than a short-cut for influenza. Figurative uses such as the blue flu are something else. A cold is not the flu, and food poisoning is not the flu; neither is viral gastroenteritis or tetanus, rabies or heart disease. – tchrist Jan 10 '13 at 15:22
Before this question was closed I was going to suggest "hard drive". Non-techies often use this term for the 'big box' part of a PC that you plug the monitor, keyboard and mouse into. Like using flu to describe a cold, it's incorrect but has become common usage. But it's not an abbreviation. – tinyd Jan 10 '13 at 16:39
@tchrist I think the OP means that people often (incorrectly) say that they've got the flu, when they've simply got a cold. – coleopterist Jan 10 '13 at 16:57

This can go in both directions, with the stricter meaning being broader, as well as it being narrower. Sometimes it can even overlap.

Meningitis technically means any inflammation of the meninges, but is often used to name any of the several infections that have it as a symptom.

E-mail and email can - and did - mean any of several forms of electronic delivery of messages over a network (whether actually transmitted over the network, or with the messages remaining on one computer shared by several users). Now it almost always only means the form of Internet email most commonly used.

Atheism technically means only a belief that there is no god, but is often taken to mean a disbelief in several other religious ideas.

Overdose means you have taken more than the prescribed dose, even if only trivially, but is often taken to mean a dangerous overdose.

Abortion in relation to a pregnancy technically means an event in which the pregnancy ended before full-term, but is often taken to mean only an induced abortion (and there's a reason why people who don't know medical terms shouldn't read their medical records - I've heard more than once of a woman being upset to read her miscarriage described by the technically correct abortion).

Some come from words being borrowed from other cultures. Tantra technically refers to a range of related styles of religious practice, but in English often refers only to a particular subset (most often those with a sexual component - sex sells).

And many trade-marked items came to refer to rival products. E.g. Hoover is the name of a company, and a trade-mark, but in many places hoover refers to a vacuum cleaner regardless of manufacture, or as a verb to using a vacuum cleaner.

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These are all good and close but not exactly what I was hoping for. I know there is something out there. I can almost taste it. But I cannot quite find it. In common parlance, Flu often includes what, in reality, is simply a cold. The CDC does not use the term "flu" but rather "Ifluenza Like Illness -- ILI" Attempting to explain that and including the viruses that cause both colds and flu leaves people glazed over. I'm looking for a common situation I can use as an analogy to improve their understanding. – Randy Martin Jan 10 '13 at 16:27
For example (but not quite good enough) The Heavens refers to the physical space above us including the stars. Heaven is concept that implies a non-geographic, non-specific location. – Randy Martin Jan 10 '13 at 16:29
@RandyMartin so it has to be an informal abbreviation to count? Otherwise atheist above fits the bill - a Zen Buddhist would be an atheist (no belief in god), but their belief in reincarnation would be outside of informal use of atheist. – Jon Hanna Jan 10 '13 at 16:32

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