Chord and Cord

Commonly Confused Words

The words chord and cord are homophones: they sound alike but have different meanings.

The noun chord is a musical term (three or more notes sounded together). In mathematics, a chord is a line that joins two points on a curve. Chord also refers to an emotion or disposition ("a responsive chord").

The noun cord refers to a rope or a bond, an insulated electrical cable, or an anatomical structure (e.g., "vocal cords").

A cord of wood is a rectangular pile of wood 4 feet wide, 4 feet high, and 8 feet long. (Originally it was a quantity that could be tied with a cord.)

Examples

  • "If it were possible to encapsulate the rock revolution in a single sound, it could easily be the opening chord of the Beatles' 'A Hard Day's Night.'"
    (Michael Campbell, Popular Music in America: The Beat Goes On, 4th ed. Schirmer Cengage, 2013)
     
  • "The insights that struck a chord with Aesop's readers in ancient Greece or Shakespeare's audiences 400 years ago hold firm in a surprising number of cases and have inspired generations of pop songs to prove it."
    (Caroline Taggart, An Apple a Day: Old-Fashioned Proverbs--Timeless Words to Live By. Penguin, 2011)
  • "She turned her back to hang the diapers on a brown cord strung between mirror and window."
    (John Updike, "Incest." The Early Stories: 1953-1975. Alfred A. Knopf, 2003)
     
  • "After every two words he gasped and dragged the air over his vocal cords."
    (Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Random House, 1969)
     
  • “No cord or cable can draw so forcibly, or bind so fast, as love can do with a single thread.”
    (Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy, 1621)


Usage Notes

  • "The anatomical expressions (spinal cord, vocal cords, etc.) are still occasionally spelt as spinal chordvocal chords, etc., but these spellings are not recommended."
    (Henry Watson Fowler and Jeremy Butterfield, Fowler's Dictionary of Modern English Usage, 4th ed. Oxford University Press, 2015)
     
  • "The expression to strike a chord is metaphorical, suggesting a harmonious or significant mental resonance with something rather than actual musical notes."
    (The American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2005)


Practice

(a) A wireless mouse operates without a _____ by transmitting radio frequency signals.

(b) Jackson sat down at the grand piano and played a major _____.

Answers

(a) A wireless mouse operates without a cord by transmitting radio frequency signals.

(b) Jackson sat down at the grand piano and played a major chord.

Glossary of Usage: Index of Commonly Confused Words

200 Homonyms, Homophones, and Homographs