Difference Between Excrete and Secrete
The words ‘excrete’ and ‘secrete’ look similar, mainly because they share a root word. They’re both used in biology, as well, and their meanings are closely related.
Both words originally come from the Latin word ‘cerno’. That, on its own, means ‘I separate’ or ‘I remove’. ‘Excrete’ and ‘secrete’ were formed by putting different prefixed on ‘cerno’. The ex- prefix means ‘out’, as in moving outwards or away. The se- prefix can have a few meanings, but in this case it means ‘aside’ or ‘by’.
‘Excrete’ means for something to deposit waste outside of the body. This can mean any process that gets rid of waste produced by the body: fecal matter, urine, tears, carbon dioxide, vomit, and sweat are all considered excretions, and so any process that gets them outside the body is excreting.
“Ebola causes the afflicted person to heavily excrete, which often kills them by dehydration.”
The word ‘secrete’, on the other hand, is typically said of things inside the body, as opposed to things that completely remove substances from the body. Organs, glands and sometimes tumors are said to secrete into the blood system.
“The pituitary gland typically secretes hormones that help a person grow.”
Sometimes, like ‘excrete’, it can be used to mean the removal of waste from the organ or gland. The biggest difference here is in what happens to the waste. The word ‘excrete’ implies that it is removed from the body, while the word ‘secrete’ means that it is removed from the body part, but not from the body itself.
As mentioned above, the two words have different prefixes, giving them different meanings. ‘Excrete’ has the ex- prefix, meaning out, but ‘secrete’ has se-, which means ‘aside’. The implication is that something that is separated and laid aside is still near the thing which secreted it, which is true for secretions. While excretions completely remove waste from the body, getting it out, secretions are kept inside the body, keeping it inside. Secretions are also not always waste, since the word can refer to a gland that produces hormones to benefit the body. The kidneys secrete adrenaline, for example.
Both words are typically formal words due to their meanings. For ‘excrete’, the normal name of the removal is substituted for a specific process. It most often refers to some combination of excretions or the process of waste removal itself. ‘Secrete’ is most often used to refer to hormones, which most people don’t normally talk about outside of technical settings.
While that is what they primarily refer to, the word ‘secrete’ also has a few other meanings. It is very rare to see some of these in modern English, though older works may still display a few. First, there is a meaning closer to the original word. It was an adjective meaning something that was separated.
“His logic and reasoning were completely secrete from reality.”
Second, it was an alternate form of the verb ‘secret’, meaning to hide or conceal something.
“He tries to secrete the jewels in his safe behind a painting.”
It also means to carry something away by stealth, especially when the thing is being stolen.
“Her father means to secrete her away into the countryside.”
It should be noted that in Modern English, ‘secret’ without the e is commonly used as the present tense form of the word.
To summarize, the word ‘excrete’ means to remove waste from the body. ‘Secrete’ means for a body part to release something into the body, such as waste, nutrition, or hormones. Both words tend to be technical and fairly formal, and they are most often used in biology.
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