Callous - callus

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These two words are, historically, the same. (They both derive from the Latin word callus, meaning 'hardened skin'.) In modern English, however, their spellings are different. In academic English, you must get them right.

The OED gives a meaning for the spelling callous as a noun as: "erroneous spelling of CALLUS". That should make AWE's point.

  • A callus is a patch of hardened skin, usually found on the hands or feet. (The word is a noun, the name of a phenomenon.) It is associated with hard physical effort: if you dig all day for a season, you will get calluses on your hands; if you walk in bare feet (or ill-fitting shoes), you will get calluses on your feet. Callus is nearly always used literally, to mean exactly the physical patch of hard skin.
  • Callous is an adjective. It is nearly always used, in everyday English, figuratively, to mean 'hard', 'hardened', or 'without any ordinary decency or kindness. We say that the police are callous when they treat their prisoners violently, without paying any attention to what they may be feeling; or that a cruel trainer may treat a dog callously by, for example, not giving it enough to eat.

A callous employer may watch his workers get calluses without ever giving them time to rest.