Carat - caret - carrot

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Don’t confuse the homophones carat, caret and carrot. The stress in all three is on the first syllable; the second vowel is a schwa, ‘CAR-et’, IPA: /ˈkær ət/.

  • A carrot is a common vegetable, much used in all cooking.
    • Figuratively, carrot is used as a metaphor for a reward. It refers to the common conception that a donkey (an animal notoriously hard to discipline) may be motivated positively by [the promise of] reward, or negatively by [the fear of] punishment: in the metaphor, by carrot or the stick.
  • A carat is a unit of measurement employed almost exclusively in the field of jewellery. It has two common uses:
    • In weighing gemstones and pearls (items of very small weight), the traditional unit used by jewellers is the carat. A carat in the metric system is 200 milligrams. This equals 0.007055 of an ounce in the traditional British (‘Imperial’) system, although the value has changed over time.
    • In assessing the purity of gold, the term carat is used as a measure of proportion, in which 24 represents absolute: ‘one carat’ = 1/24 of the maximum. 24 carat gold is thus 100% pure gold; 18 carat gold contains three quarters, by mass, of gold metal, alloyed with one quarter, by mass, of other metal. 12 carat gold has only half of its mass composed of pure gold.
Etymological note: carat is derived from the Greek κεράτιον, a ‘little horn’ – the name given, because of its shape, to the seed of the carob tree (or locust bean), Ceratonia siliqua. This word entered Arabic as ﻗﻴﺭﺍﻁ ‘qirat’ dry weight of 4 grains, as the seed of the carob, or locust, tree was considered to have an invariable mass. Thence the word travelled around the Mediterranean, giving carato in Italian, quilate in Spanish and Portuguese, and carat in French, which is the source of the English carat, recorded from the sixteenth century.
  • A caret mark (^), which is also used for the circumflex accent, is used to show an omission. It is the third person singular of the present tense of the Latin verb carēre, ‘to be missing’, ‘to be lacking’. So it means ‘[something] is missing [here]’.