Systemic or systematic?

Do you also find these words slightly confusing in English?

What’s the difference between systemic and systematic?

Whenever I write the English words systemic or systematic, I take a minute to double check myself, to ensure that I’ve used the correct one. I’m sure I’m not the only person who finds them slightly confusing. After all, they’re both adjectives and they’re both derived from the same noun: system. They also sound and look very similar, which makes it even harder to differentiate between the two. But they are two different words and they do have two different meanings. To add to the confusion, they can both easily become adverbs by adding the -ly suffix.

Hopefully, this article will help clarify the difference between these two words in English.

What does the English dictionary say?

According to the Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, systematic is an older and more common word than systemic, but they’ve both been around for more than 200 years. The same dictionary differentiates between the two by explaining that something systematic follows or uses a system, while something systemic is embedded in the system itself (i.e., is a part of the system.)

The Collins Dictionary explains that something systematic is conducted in a thorough, planned, and efficient manner, while something systemic impacts the entire system or organization.

In academic writing, researchers often review the existing literature on a given topic, providing readers with a summary of all relevant research findings, while highlighting the similarities and differences between them. This is referred to as a systematic review of the literature. On the other hand, when entering the term systemic into Google Scholar, numerous articles on biology and other related fields use this word, especially in relation to cells, immune systems, and diseases.

Can you give me an example?

If it’s still not quite clear, take a look at the following examples. According to the BrainyQuote website, Coretta Scott King, wife of Martin Luther King Jr., once said: “I can’t help but believe that at some time in the not-too-distant future, there is going to be another movement to change these systemic conditions of poverty, injustice, and violence in people’s lives. That is where we’ve got to go, and it is going to be a struggle.”

According to the same website, philosopher Karl Popper once said: “Science may be described as the art of systematic over-simplification.”

To put it simply, think about baking. You have to be systematic when following the instructions, if you want the end product to have the desired texture and taste: First cream the butter and sugar, then add the eggs, and finally add the flour. At this point, once you’ve mixed all the ingredients together, you can’t remove the flour, even if you really want to, because it has become a systemic part of the cake mixture.

(I sometimes wish that the English language was as easy as apple pie…) English idioms: As easy as apple pie

 

Is it the same in English and in Hebrew?

In Hebrew, the two words are more distinct.

The word shi-ta-ti (שיטתי) should be used for systematic

and the word ma-a-rah-ti (מערכתי) should be used for systemic.

It’s less confusing in Hebrew because these are two discrete words so that’s not usually a problem when I’m editing texts in English.

But when I have to translate the word ma-a-rah-ti (מערכתי) from Hebrew into English, I always double check myself, just to be sure.

 

Next time you’re writing content in English and need to use either systemic or systematic, take a quick look at this page – just to be sure.

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