Do these three words mean the same thing?

From my understanding, discordant means not agreeing or out of tune. This is similar to non-concurring (as concurring would mean agreeing on something). Also, controversial means something which gives rise to disagreement.

How do I understand the subtle difference in meaning when the wors are so similar?


Controversial is the adjective form of controversy. And controversy is defined as "disagreement, typically when prolonged, public, and heated." Therefore something that is controversial is "of, producing, or marked by controversy." It has aspects of dividing public opinion over a period of time, often heatedly so.

Discordant means "not being in accord; conflicting." And one definition of accord is "a settlement or compromise of conflicting opinions." So discordant has more of the connotation of being disharmonious, being contrary, clashing with others on purpose.

Nonconcur is defined as "to refuse or fail to concur." And concur is defined as "be of the same opinion, agree; agree with a decision, opinion, or finding." So nonconcurring can be a quiet, nonpublic disagreement with something. It doesn't have to be one side or the other, it could be that there are several nonconcurring opinions. This is the word used sometimes when a Supreme Court justice has a dissenting opinion. One of Merriam-Webster's sample sentences is: The one nonconcurring judge in the case issued his own opinion.

You are correct that the meanings are similar, and it will depend on the context in which the word is used but, based on their definitions, I think controversial has a public and prolonged element to it, discordant has an intentional element to it, and nonconcurring has a thoughtful, respectful connotation.

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    One thing (topic, opinion, action, &c) can be 'controversial' - subject to argument - but it takes two things to be 'discordant' - even if everyone ignores the discord and there's no actual argument! . . . And in USC usage, a 'concurring opinion' is one which concurs in the decision but differs on the reasoning. I've never seen 'non-concurring opinion' for 'dissent', but that's what it would be. – StoneyB on hiatus Aug 6 '12 at 1:36

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