What's the Difference Between a Church, Chapel, Cathedral, and Basilica?

While our news feeds and social feeds were filled with updates on the horrible Notre Dame fire last week, few stories answered what I, without a newsletter to motivate me, would have maybe been too embarrassed to ask: What type of building is Notre Dame, exactly? And what, besides its rich history and architectural splendor, makes it different from the places that regular churchgoers visit, say, on Easter Sunday? The answer lies within the differences between a churchchapelcathedral, and basilica.  

church is any place of worship that has a permanent congregation and is run by a pastor or priest. The term can refer to both the actual space as well as the congregation; you might go to church on Sundays and also really love hosting your church’s book club. You’ll find churches across all denominations of Christianity, and it can mean anything from the grandest architectural wonder to a group of congregants gathering regularly to worship without a permanent physical space.

Unlike a church, a chapel is a place of worship that has no pastor or priest and no permanent congregation; it’s all about the physical space. In the classic sense, it’s usually smaller than a church—sometimes just a room—and can be within a church itself or in a secular place like a hospital or airport. (It’s also the term people use for the places to get hitched in Vegas, if that’s your thing.)

cathedral is a church that’s run by a bishop; it’s the principal church within a diocese, the area of land over which a bishop has jurisdiction. It’s named for the cathedra, the special chair in which a bishops sits. And contrary to what might seem like the obvious differentiator, the buildings themselves have no physical requirements; all the fancy stained glass and flying buttresses might be along for a ride, but it’s all about the bishop. As long as it’s where the bishop sits, it’s a cathedral.

As for basilicas, there are two types: basilicas major and basilicas minor. The basilicas major are the four personal churches of the pope and are in and around Rome: the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran, St. Peter's Basilica, the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, and the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore. Basilicas minor can be found around the world and are rewarded that status by the pope, usually because of some sort of historical, spiritual, or architectural significance. The term “basilica” is an additional label to whatever the structure already is; any cathedral or church can also be a basilica.

So, to answer the original question: The Notre Dame is a church, a cathedral, and a basilica minor. (It was given basilica status in 1805.) The building around the corner from you is probably just a church. And the place that twenty-two-year-old Britney Spears wed her childhood friend Jason Allen Alexander in 2004 was definitely a “chapel.” (Their marriage, in case you were wondering, ended 55 hours later.)

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What's the Difference Between a Couch and a Sofa?

After a long day, there are few things more satisfying than kicking off your shoes and swan-diving into a piece of upholstered furniture. But is that piece of upholstered furniture a sofa or a couch? Let’s find out.

The term “couch” comes from the French word “coucher,” which means “to lie down.” The word “sofa,” on the other hand, comes from the Arabic word “suffah,” which refers to a wooden bench covered in blankets. 

The origins of the words point to the major differentiator between the two pieces of furniture: couches are comfort-forward, and sofas are design-forward.

In earlier times, couches were smaller than sofas, and typically had no arms—though today’s couches can both be big and have arms. In modern-day usage, it’s really more about the way you're using the piece of furniture, or how you’re referring to it—“couch” is a more casual term, while “sofa” is more formal and proper. (And according to Elle Décor, the term “sofa” is more common in the interior-design industry.)

So are you lying down on it? Call it a couch. Are you only allowed to sit on it on special occasions? Sofa. Shoving Doritos in your mouth while watching college basketball on it? Couch. Laundering your clothes before you step within three feet of it? Sofa.

Happy relaxing!

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What's the Difference Between Soy Sauce, Shoyu, and Tamari?

One of the goals of What’s the Difference—besides pure delight, and being correct—is to make everyone’s worldviews a little bit bigger. So whether you’re the type of person whose pantry looks like a seventeenth-century apothecary or someone for whom the word “soy sauce” is the only part of this title you recognize, you are all welcome, seen, and celebrated. We’re all here to bathe in the JOY of KNOWLEDGE—so let’s take a dip, shall we?

Soy sauce was first invented approximately 2,000 years ago, using a process that is quite similar to the one we use today. To make it, soybeans and roasted wheat are mixed together and inoculated with Aspergillus mold, or koji. (Koji is also the mold used to make miso paste and sake.) After three to four days, the soybean-wheat-koji mixture is combined with water and salt to form a thick mash. The mash is then put into large vats and fermented, traditionally for eighteen months or longer, and then strained and bottled. 

Soy sauces can be Chinese-style or Japanese-style. Chinese-style soy sauces traditionally are made with 100% soy, while Japanese-style soy sauces are made with a mix of soy and wheat (usually 50/50). This gives the Japanese sauces a sweeter, more nuanced flavor than their Chinese counterparts, which are usually saltier and more aggressive. Shoyuis simply the name for the Japanese-style soy sauce, which can be light (usukuchi) or dark (koikuchi). 

Tamari is soy-sauce-like product that originated as a by-product of making miso. Classically, it’s made with only soybeans (and no wheat), making it more similar in flavor to Chinese-style soy sauce—and a great option for those who are gluten-free. (Many tamaris these days, however, do contain a bit of wheat—so if you’re concerned about gluten, make sure to check the bottle.)

Other soy sauce variants include Chinese light soy sauce, or “fresh” or “thin” soy sauce, which is the most common soy sauce in Chinese cuisine; Chinese dark soy sauce, which is thicker and darker in color but less salty than the light sauces and sometimes contains sugar or molasses; and sweet soy sauce, or kecap manis, an Indonesian style of soy sauce that’s popular across Southeast Asia. Sweet soy sauce is flavored with palm sugar, star anise, galangal, and other aromatics, giving it what Max Falkowitz at Snuk Foods calls a “barbecue-sauce consistency.” It’s popular in stir-fries and rice and noodle dishes, and it’s also great used in a marinade.

One more thing: before you buy any soy sauce or soy-sauce-like product, make sure to check the ingredients first. These days, there are bottles of stuff that are sold as soy sauce but contain tons of gross chemicals, aimed at replicating the soy sauce taste while bypassing the traditional fermentation process. According to Max, “If you see anything besides soy beans, wheat, salt, and mold cultures on the label, such as caramel coloring and ‘natural flavors,’ steer clear.” With so many options of what you can buy, it should be easy to do so.

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What's the Difference Between a Cop, Sheriff, and State Trooper?

No matter how you feel about law enforcement these days, let’s face it: most of the time, we try to follow the law, and we expect the people in our lives to follow the law, too. The presence and importance of the law is why we need people in our society who make sure that it’s upheld—and in America, this makes for a system that’s notoriously difficult to navigate. Exhibit A: What’s the actual difference between a copsheriff, and state trooper? Let’s get into it.

The term “cop”—or police officer—can refer to a patrol officer, a correctional officer, or a sheriff’s deputyPatrol officers are the men and women in the classic blue uniforms, whose jobs include the pursuit and arrest of criminals, response to emergency and non-emergency calls, and enforcement of motor vehicle and criminal laws. Patrol officers can also be appointed to a special unit, such as motorcycle, canine corps, or SWAT teams.

The major difference between a patrol officer and a sheriff’s deputy is their area of jurisdiction. Sheriff’s deputiesspecifically operate within a county, and their responsibilities are quite similar to those of patrol officers. Patrol officers usually work within the jurisdiction of a city or town, though they can also work for a state, county, hospital, college, transit district, or any other governmental organization that has the ability to create its own law-enforcement branch. 

Correctional officers have a much different set of responsibilities than their other cop counterparts. They’re specifically in charge of enforcing the rules inside a state prison or jail: overseeing the inmates as they go about their daily routines, resolving conflicts, and inspecting the facilities to prevent escape. 

Now, let’s move onto the role of the sheriff. A sheriff is an elected official and is essentially the CEO of the sheriff’s department. Most sheriffs operate under the county government—in fact, the only state without sheriffs is Alaska, which has no counties.  

The word “sheriff” is actually a portmanteau of “shire reeve,” which was the tax collector in medieval England. These days, some sheriffs are still the tax collectors for their counties. But sheriff responsibilities can vary greatly from state to state: In some states, the position is largely ceremonial, and essentially just includes serving papers and providing security for the courts. In other states, the sheriff is also in charge of the county jail. And most states look to the sheriff’s office to provide general law-enforcement services (so, police officer–type services) to cities that don’t have their own police forces or to unincorporated parts of the county.

Unlike cops, who usually work for the city, or sheriffs, who work for the county, state troopers work for the state. They serve as highway patrol or as part of state-wide police agencies. You can tell who they are by their brown uniforms, which have star-shaped badges and patches to indicate their rank, and their large, wide-brimmed hats.

And for a BONUS ROUND: What about marshals and rangers? A marshal is an enforcement officer of the court and provides security for the court and court staff. Marshals can also be in charge of serving subpoenas and arrest warrants. Rangers, at least in the state-level-officer sense, are limited to Texas, where they’re the top of the state police force. Many states also have park or forest rangers that either act as the police force for their governmental subdivisions or as naturalist or conservation officers.

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What's the Difference Between a Hero, Sub, Grinder, and Hoagie?

Some things in life are simple: we know that two pieces of bread with stuff between them, for example, is a sandwich. Swap in a long roll, however, and things get a lot more complicated. 

Let’s start with the submarine, or sub. A sub is at least six inches long and is constructed with a combination of meat, cheese, fixings (lettuce, tomato, etc.), and dressing. It is usually served cold. According to Google Trends, the word "sub" is by far and away the most commonly used of today's four large-sandwich terms. You can see this in the graph below:

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Looking at the regional breakdown, "sub" is also clearly the winner—except for one, lonesome state. 

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Pennsylvania—what is going on?? 

Pennsylvanians—Philadelphians, in particular—have their "hoagies." A hoagie is just a sub—the Oxford English Dictionary literally defines it as a "submarine sandwich"—but the Pennsylvania folk have insisted on making it their own. According to Bon Appétit, the term likely comes from Depression-era jazz musician and sandwich-shop owner Al De Palma, who started calling his submarines "hoggies" because you "had to be a hog" to eat a sandwich that big. (So judgy!) "Hoggies" somehow morphed into "hoagies," and you got yourself a regional sandwich term. 

Head over to New York City, and you’ll see a similar sandwich referred to as a "hero." The term likely comes from New York Herald Tribune columnist Clementine Paddleworth (yes, that was her name), who in 1936 described a sandwich so large "you had to be a hero to eat it." More so than a sub, a hero can refer to both hot and cold sandwiches, which is why you’ll see things like meatball heroes and chicken-parm heroes on menus around the area.

Lastly, we have grinders, which is the New England–based term for a hero. According to Bon Appétit, "some claim that it was named for 'grinders,' Italian-American slang for dockworkers (who were often sanding and grinding rusty hulls to repaint them)," but the term most likely comes from the fact that they were harder to chew than normal sandwiches: "that toothsomeness got translated into 'grinder,' since that's what your teeth had to do to get through a bite."

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What's the Difference Between Sunscreen and Sunblock?

As a former food writer, I have a complicated relationship with seasonality. When you’re banned from writing about tomatoes and eggplant and corn outside the hours of late July to early September, you know what you want to do? You wanna write about tomatoes in December. 

So with What’s the Difference, we’re deciding that seasonality is a construct. (Unless it serves the purpose of a cute newsletter introduction—in that case, we love the seasons.) And unlike tomatoes in December, which are objectively gross, sunscreen and sunblock should be worn year-round! But before we get to skincare tips, let’s dig into the difference.

Sunscreen is a lotion that absorbs the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays; it contains chemicals that soak them up before they reach the skin. It’s therefore referred to as a chemical sunscreen. Sunscreens can have a wide range of active ingredients, but the good ones contain benzophenones, which protect against UVA rays (the ones that cause premature aging and wrinkling), and cinnamates and/or salicylates, which protect against UVB rays (the ones that cause sunburns). 

Sunblock, on the other hand, reflects the sun’s rays from the skin instead of absorbing them. It’s therefore thought of as a physical sunscreen. Sunblock is usually thicker and more opaque than sunscreen, and it can sometimes leave behind white residue. And although it’s heavier, sunblock’s active ingredients—titanium dioxide or zinc oxide—are gentler, making it a safer choice for people who have sensitive skin.

Dermatologists say that unless you have a personal preference, both sunscreen and sunblock are fine to use—one’s not better than the other. However, whatever you choose should have an SPF of at least 30 and protect against both UVA and UVB rays; if you see the term “broad spectrum” on the label, you’re good to go. And make sure to avoid suntan lotion, which is a different product altogether; it usually has an SPF of 15 or lower, and is made with oils that don’t protect your skin at all. You might want that sun-kissed look, but safety comes first—no matter what season it is.

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What's the Difference Between Courage and Bravery?

When we’re young, there are a group of virtues that pepper the lessons that we learn, the books that we read, the movies that we watch, the games that we play: Kindness. Compassion. Bravery. Courage. We’re taught to emulate these traits in our day-to-day lives: to do unto others, to always tell the truth, to stand up for what’s good and right. 

But the bigness of these qualities can overshadow any nuance, especially when there are mysteries to solve or villains to trick or princesses to save. So the small, but worthy distinctions between them—especially something as delicate as the difference between courage and bravery—are often left unsaid, until decades later when a newsletter pops into your inbox and sets the record straight.

Bravery is the ability to confront something painful or difficult or dangerous without any fear. It’s a quality, not a state of mind; it doesn’t need a cause to awaken it. Someone is brave—full stop. To the person who has it, it’s effortless; it’s eating a caterpillar on the playground because a friend dares you to, without a second thought. It’s jumping from the highest diving board without any hesitation. 

Courage, on the other hand, is the ability to confront something painful or difficult or dangerous despite any fear. It’s not a quality, but a choice; a person feels the fear or pain or danger, but chooses to persevere anyway. Unlike bravery, courage is driven by a cause; the courageous person believes that cause is worth standing up and fighting for, despite all the clear reasons not to. It takes a great effort, because what’s on the other end merits it.  

These differences can be traced back to the etymology of the words. The root word for bravery is the Italian word “bravo,” which means “bold” but also once meant “wild, savage.” The root word for courage, however, is “coeur”—the French word for “heart.”

So if you don’t consider yourself brave, don’t despair. When a cause is worthy enough—when you have something worth fighting for—that’s where courage steps in. Courage isn’t something you need to already have; it’s something you can find. 

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What's the Difference Between Corned Beef and Pastrami?

Here at What’s the Difference HQ, we’ve already covered the distinction between deli and appetizing and the intricacies of the appetizing case. But the deli counter has its own pressing questions—because while you may have some vague understanding that pastrami and corned beef are two different things, and that one might be better than the other, you may be stuck on the how or why. Here are the major points of differentiation between the two, because no meat should ever be a mystery. 

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: Pastrami has two possible ancestries: it’s either Romanian (where its predecessor, pastrama, was made with pork or mutton) or Turkish (where it’d be a descendent of pastirma, made with beef). Corned beef hails from Ireland, which is why it's eaten on St. Patrick’s Day. 

CUT OF MEAT: Today’s corned beef and pastrami are both made from beef, albeit different parts of the animal. Corned beef is made from brisket, which comes from the lower chest of the cow; pastrami is either made from a cut called the deckle, a lean, wide, firm shoulder cut, or the navel, a smaller and juicier section right below the ribs. These days, you may also see pastrami made from brisket.

BRINE: Pastrami and corned beef are brined before they’re cooked; they’re either rubbed with or submerged in a solution of salt and spices to infuse the meat with more moisture and flavor. Both are brined in a mixture of salt, sugar, black pepper, cloves, coriander, bay leaves, juniper berries, and dill, as well as the preservatives sodium nitrate or sodium nitrite.

SPICE MIX: Here’s when things really start to differ. After brining, pastrami gets coated in a mixture of black pepper, coriander, mustard seeds, fennel seeds, and sometimes fresh garlic; that spice coating is what gives it its blackened appearance. Corned beef is… naked. No spice mix to speak of.

COOKING METHOD: Pastrami is smoked over hardwood, oftentimes with a pan of water nearby, which helps create steam and keep the meat moist. It’s then cooled and then steamed before serving. Corned beef is… boiled. Sometimes with cabbage and other accoutrements in the mix, too.

BONUS ROUND: If you’ve ever been to Montreal, you may be wondering: What does “smoked meat” have to do with all this? Smoked meat is a Canadian specialty that pulls from the same themes as corned beef and pastrami, but has a story arc of its own. It’s made with brisket and is brined in a mixture of black pepper, coriander, garlic, and mustard seeds—but with much less sugar than its pastrami and corned-beef cousins. It’s then smoked, like pastrami, and is best layered onto rye bread with mustard for serving—just like the rest of family. 

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What's the Difference Between a Castle and a Palace?

As a girl, I was never into princesses; I was more of the type to watch monster-truck videos with my brother and read almanacs for fun. However, as an adult, I find there’s something rather aspirational about the royal lifestyle, or at least the royal lifestyle of years’ past; who wouldn’t want to sit around eating teacakes and playing whist all day? I hereby present to you the differences between a castle and a palace—because if we can’t live like royals ourselves, we may as well know the terminology.

castle is a large, fortified residence or group of buildings with strong walls to defend against attacks. In their heyday, they were inhabited by a royal or noble and used as a seat from which to control the surrounding area. Castles oftentimes have moats, peep-holes in the walls from which to shoot arrows, and other defense-centric architectural touches. They were first built by royalty during the Middle Ages throughout Europe and the Middle East, and served as fortresses to guard whoever was doing the ruling.

palace, on the other hand, is designed simply for elegance, lavishness, and luxury. No fortified walls, no moats, no cannons—they’ve more of the gilded-chic vibe. Palaces were/are lived in by royalty, heads of state, or heads of a church, and are usually surrounded by lush, landscaped gardens. The first palaces were built on Palatine Hill in Rome, which is actually where the name “palace” comes from.

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What's the Difference Between Sleet, Hail, Graupel, and Wintry Mix?

No matter what background or tradition or religion or belief system you identify with, I think we can all agree: when crazy stuff starts falling from the sky, things get weird. Turns out there are so many crazy things falling from the sky these days that we now must expand our vocabulary. My friends, it’s time to get cozy with hailsleetgraupel (yes—this is a real thing), and wintry mix.

But first: some background. Hail, sleet, graupel, and wintry mix are all forms of precipitation that start off as snowSnow stays snow when the temperature between the clouds and the ground stays at around 32°F the entire way down; it’s when the temperature gets warmer somewhere en route that interesting stuff starts to happen.

Sleet is what forms when there are warmer temperatures in the air and near- or below-freezing temperatures on the ground, or when cold air “sandwiches” a pocket of warmer air. This combination causes snowflakes to melt on their way down and then re-freeze as they get closer to the ground, turning into translucent little pellets of ice.  

Graupel, on the other hand, happens when there are freezing temperatures in the air and above-freezing temperatures closer to the ground. Snowflakes get caked in near-frozen drops of rain, forming soft, opaque white balls akin to what the National Weather Service so aptly describes as “Dippin’ Dots.” For such an ugly name, I personally think graupel sounds quite lovely; it’s like snow on steroids, or like the pearl-sugar topping on a brioche, but soft.

Wintry mix, as one might guess, is a gross mix of snow, graupel, sleet, and freezing rain, because turns out multiple things can fall out of the sky at the same time! However, instead of the clouds spewing out a trail mix–like mixture, which would actually be kind of cool, we get any of those forms of precipitation falling in areas very close to each other, or switching off as the day progresses. (Meteorologists use the term “wintry mix” to essentially avoid getting too specific.) According to this story in the New Yorker, wintry mix most often happens in the central or eastern United States, thanks to a lovely concoction of cold air from Canada, warm air from the Gulf of Mexico, stormy air from the Rocky Mountains, and western air coming in on a jet stream. These all create a setting perfect for crazy frozen things to form and fall to Earth.

Lastly, we have hail, which only falls during thunderstorms and is actually most common in warmer conditions during the spring, summer, and fall. Hail starts as soft, snow-like particles that form in the below-freezing air at the top of thunderstorms (because it’s still cold up there, even in the summertime). As these particles fall into the storm, ice crystals and cloud droplets freeze onto them, and they stay suspended in the clouds for a while, gathering up more frozen stuff. When the pellets get too heavy, or when the winds that push them up into the clouds get too weak to keep them afloat, they start falling to the ground. 

Hail is usually only the size of a penny, but the largest recorded hailstone fell in 1986 over the Gopalganj district of Pakistan and was… 2.25 pounds. Imagine the terror when that fell out of the sky. Stay safe out there!

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What's the Difference Between Broccolini, Broccoli Rabe, and Chinese Broccoli?

I know, I know. There are few newsletter topics as sexy as cruciferous vegetables—especially the brethren of the classic eat-your-vegetables vegetable, broccoli. But just how when you grow up, you realize that vegetables are actually, well, pretty good, turns out that vegetables—or at least the differences between ones like Chinese broccolibroccolini, and broccoli rabe—are actually pretty interesting, too. 

Let’s start with Chinese broccoli, also known as gai-lankai-lan, or Chinese kale. Chinese broccoli is a member of the species Brassica oleracea, the same species as regular broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower; however, its “cultivar group” is called alboglabra, which sounds completely made up and/or like something out of Harry Potter. It has thick stems, itty-bitty florets, and large, flat leaves, and its flavor is somehow stronger and more broccoli-esque than regular broccoli.

Broccolini is actually a HYBRID vegetable, a cross between broccoli and Chinese broccoli that was invented in 1993. It was first grown under the name “Asparation” (??) because of its asparagus-flavor undertones, but then some genius was like “that is a truly horrible name for a vegetable” and decided to market it as “broccolini” in the United States instead. Broccolini/Asparation has a long, leggy stem, small florets, and small, if any, leaves, and is more tender and sweeter than either of its parents. 

Lastly, we have broccoli rabe, also known as rapini, which is not a broccoli derivative at all and is instead more closely related to the turnip. It’s a bitter green, similar to a mustard green, with thin stalks, little buds, and lots and lots of leaves. It’s particularly popular in Italian cooking, where its often sautéed in garlic and/or used in pasta dishes. 

Come March or April, you may start seeing “overwintered broccoli rabe” at the farmers’ market, which is broccoli rabe that was planted in the fall and then harvested in the early spring. This broccoli rabe is not as large and leafy as normal-wintered broccoli rabe, but the leaves and stalks are more tender and less bitter; the vegetable has to produce extra sugar in order to not freeze. And given the weather this past week, you can bet that whatever has survived come spring will be pretty damn tasty.

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What's the Difference Between an Orchestra, Symphony, and Philharmonic?

If you’re like me, feeling cultured feels good. There are few sensations as pleasant as learning something new, or exploring a different place, or doing something that expands your world even a miniscule amount. Also: being able to talk about feeling cultured feels good. Part of the fun of doing culture-y stuff is telling people about it, whether it’s excitedly or earnestly or just to show people how very cultured you are.

You know what doesn’t feel good? Trying show people that you’re cultured, and being WRONG. Nope, I think that’s a feeling we’d all like to avoid. And with that, let’s learn the real difference between an orchestra, symphony, and philharmonic.

An orchestra is a large group of musicians that usually includes the four major sections of Western instruments: strings, brass, winds, and percussion.

symphony is a large-scale piece of music that typically contains three to four movements.

symphony orchestra is an orchestra that’s big enough and has enough of a variety of instruments (usually 18 to 25!) to play a symphony. When an orchestra is called a “symphony,” it’s just shorthand for “symphony orchestra.”For example, when people call the CSO the “Cleveland Symphony,” they’re dropping the “orchestra” at the end—but it’s there. So: you are not going to see the “symphony,” you’re going to see the “symphony orchestra.” 

philharmonic—or, really, a philharmonic orchestra—is the same thing as a symphony orchestra. The label is used to differentiate between two music groups in a city, so that you don’t get the Vienna Symphony Orchestra and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra confused. But the term “philharmonic orchestra,” unlike “symphony orchestra,” is always part of a proper name—so I’d say I was in a symphony orchestra in high school, not in a philharmonic orchestra. (Unless I was actually in like, the New York Philharmonic in high school, which I was not.)

And with that, may I suggest Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 (particularly the second movement)? Because we can now resume talking about how cultured we are.

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What's the Difference Between Four-Wheel Drive and All-Wheel Drive?

It’s winter, people, which means fuzzy socks and hot chocolate and snuggling on your couch to watch not one, but TWO documentaries about the Fyre Festival. It also means single degrees and snowstorms and slippery roads—and, for those of us who drive on a regular basis, it’s a time to be extra-careful. It behooves us, then, to learn the difference between four-wheel and all-wheel drive—because despite the fact that the four wheels might be all the wheels, they are not the same thing. 

Let’s ease into it. In two-wheel drive, or 2WD, torque is applied to either the front or rear wheels, depending on the type of vehicle. This is more suitable for driving in mild climates, where a car doesn’t have much need for real traction. 

But both four-wheel drive (4WD) and all-wheel drive (AWD), as their names suggest, power all four of the vehicle’s wheels. So how do they differ? In all-wheel drive, the car sends a variable amount of torque to each wheel, depending on which wheels need it the most in any given moment. Four-wheel drive sends a fixed amount of torque to each wheel, which makes it much better for off-roading—but not as great for regular driving. That’s why most four-wheel drive vehicles have a two-wheel drive mode, and the driver can switch back and forth depending on the conditions.

It makes sense, then, that four-wheel drive is only found in SUVs and trucks that have higher ground clearance; these are the sorts of vehicles that you see fearlessly lumbering through the mud in football-game commercials. All-wheel drive, on the other hand, can be found in all types of cars and trucks, not just the off-roaders.

No matter what-wheel drive you have, stay safe out there!

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What's the Difference Between Russian and Thousand Island Dressing?

If you’ve frequented a salad bar recently—or returned from a quick jaunt from, say, the 1950s—you may recall a bowl or two of pink, florescent dressing with some chopped-up stuff in it. Maybe you dolloped some of it onto your plate of greens, or had a white-tocqued chef at the meat-carving station slather it on a sandwich for you. In any case: Was it Russian dressing or Thousand Island? If it wasn’t slapped in a bottle with a label, would you be able to tell the difference? Let’s find out.
 
Russian dressing is made with a mayonnaise-ketchup base, often livened up with pickle relish, Worcestershire sauce, prepared horseradish, and lemon juice and seasoned with paprika, onion powder, and/or mustard powder. It’s spicier and less sweet than Thousand Island, with a more complex, nuanced je ne sais quoi. Some say it got the “Russian” in its name because it once contained caviar: according to a 1957 New York Times article, an early version of the dressing in Larousse Gastronomique called for mayonnaise, tinted pink with the poached coral and pulverized shell of a lobster, seasoned with black caviar and salt. In any case, the creator of the dressing, a man named James E. Colburn of Nashua, New Hampshire (not Russia), sold so much of it that he acquired “a wealth on which he was able to retire.” Jealous.
 
Thousand Island dressing also has a mayonnaise-ketchup (or chili sauce) base; includes pickle relish and/or other chopped vegetables, such as pimientos, olives, and onions; and has some more rogue, recipe-dependent ingredients thrown into the mix, like parsley, chives, or hot sauce. The big differentiator, however, is the addition of a chopped up hard-boiled egg, which acts as a thickener and binds the ingredients together. The name comes from the region between northern New York state and southern Ontario, which is where it was invented in around 1900—most likely at one of the resorts up there that city folk frequented in the summer.
 
These days, you’re more likely to find the two dressings on sandwiches rather than salads—with Russian typically on a Reuben, and a Thousand Island–type spread used as the “secret sauce” on a Big Mac. But sadly, according to the Washington Post, “an examination of menus around the country shows that Russian dressing has all but disappeared from America’s national consciousness.” What’s more—and we just love this sort of thing at What’s the Difference HQ—what is actually Russian dressing might now be labeled as Thousand Island. “Sometimes it’s easier to just make things quickly understandable for the customer, to avoid wasting time explaining things,” Nick Zukin, co-author of The Artisan Jewish Deli at Home, told the Post. “Even if you made what was essentially a Russian dressing, you might call it Thousand Island just to avoid headaches."

🤯

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What's the Difference Between Lotion and Moisturizer?

It’s the new year, people, which means it’s time for green tea and grain bowls and Meditation and Self Care. It’s time to treat ourselves to feeling good; it’s time to mask our faces with indigenous soils and lather up our bodies like we’re in some sort of commercial and luxuriate in the warmth of our collective internal glow. But before we spend our first week’s paycheck on the season’s buzziest new product, or raid the drugstore aisle for another promised cure-all, we should probably know—what exactly are we rubbing all over ourselves, anyways? It’s time to learn the difference between lotion and moisturizer. 

First, let’s talk about moisture. It’s easy to think of moisture as water; when something is moist, it’s kind of wet, right? But when it comes to skin, water is a horrible moisturizer; it evaporates too quickly to soak in.

Lotion has a higher water content than moisturizer, and therefore does its work on top of the skin to cause some sort of effect, like preventing sunburn. Lotions certainly can carry vitamins and minerals, but ones that have a topical use; they’re doing something on the surface on the skin, rather than penetrating it. 

Moisturizer, on the other hand, is a cream that’s designed to bring moisture or vitamins or minerals into the skin, not just on top of it. This means that many moisturizers have sealing agents, like mineral oils or petroleum jelly, to help lock in that moisture. Moisturizers are therefore thicker than lotions, and are more effective for treating dry skin—especially in the winter.

Another thing about water? The more water that a product has, the more likely it is to attract bacteria—which is where preservatives and fragrances come in. Because lotions are more water-based than moisturizers, they’re more likely to have extra added ingredients, and therefore are more prone to irritate your skin. So when you’re shopping, be aware—those cucumber/coconut/cantaloupe scents might seem great, but they have a purpose other than making you smell like a spa. 

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What's the Difference Between Spruce, Fir, and Pine Trees?

Merry Christmas! Chances are, if you’re celebrating the holiday, you have a tree hanging out indoors somewhere, festooned in lights and popcorn and ornaments and whatever else you feel like draping on its scented limbs. But what’s the difference between that specimen in your living room and the giant one in Rockefeller Center, or the ones you can see from your frosted window, whose needles whisper softly in the winter wind? Let’s get to know our holiday evergreens. 

Spruce, fir, and pine trees are part of the class pinopsida, and they’re all conifers: their leaves take the form of thin, narrow needles, and they shed cones in order to reproduce. (Cones are essentially fancy seeds.) 

Firs, at least in America, are the classic Christmas trees; tall and narrow in appearance, their branches grow in thickly and luxuriously, oftentimes obscuring the trunk from view. The needles attach individually to each branch, and are secured by a doodad that looks almost like a tiny suction cup. Those needles are sharply pointed and somewhat flexible; however, since they’re flat, you can’t really roll them between your fingers. Firs have a smooth bark, and their cones are somewhat enigmatic; they grow towards the tops of the trees, and they usually break apart before falling to the ground. If you do get your hands on one, it will be green, elliptical in shape, and probably oozing with sap.

Like firs, spruce trees have needles that are attached individually to each branch, though without that suction-cup situation. Their needles are stiffer than firs and have four sides to them, making them easily roll-able between your fingers. The scales of spruce cones will be narrow and feel flexible, and their bark is the roughest and scaliest of the notable evergreens.

Pine trees have a more-sparse branch distribution than their fir and spruce cousins, making them the least likely Christmas tree contender. And unlike firs and spruces, they have two, tree, or five needles coming out of the same spot on each branch, with needles that are softer and more pliant. Pine-tree bark is jagged and flaky, and while their cones start out green and flexible, they grow brown and woody as they mature.

In case you need some more tree trivia to whip out at the dinner table tonight, how’s this: What’s the deal with Christmas trees, anyway? People have actually been putting evergreen trees in their homes since long before the birth of Jesus Christ; they were thought to ward off witches, ghosts, and evil spirits. The trees held particular significance around the time of the winter solstice, when people celebrated the return of the sun; the evergreen-ness of the evergreens was reminiscent of life and growth. In the sixteenth century, it’s believed that Martin Luther himself was the first person to put candles on an indoor tree; on the way home from a sermon, he was struck by how the stars looked twinkling above the evergreens, and he wanted to bring that brilliance into his home. It took a while, however, for Americans to get into the spirit; in 1659, in fact, the court of Massachusetts actually made it illegal to do anything besides attend church on Christmas, and people were fined for having decorations. But after an influx of German and Irish immigrants in the late nineteenth century, Americans finally started to get into the whole decorated-tree tradition, and the modern Christmas era officially began. 

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What's the Difference Between Jealousy and Envy?

Emotions are complicated. And if you, like me, would rather spend your time baking a deranged amount of granola or meticulously color-coding your closet instead of actually facing them, I feel you. But part of being an adult is trying to make sense of the things we feel in a given day—and it helps when you can actually define them. So let’s start with the difference with jealousy and envy, shall we? 

To put it bluntly, we feel envy when we want something that someone else has that we don’t. As in: I’m envious of her flowing mane of hair, or her new high-powered job, or her angelic ability to play the trombone. On the other hand, we feel jealous when something we possess is being threatened by another person—or, in other words, when we worry that someone will take away something that we already have. You may feel jealous, for example, when your girlfriend is dancing with another guy; the emotion is a direct result of something you have (a relationship) being threatened by someone else. 

In short: envy is a reaction to lacking something, while jealousy is a reaction to the threat of losing something.

Although the two emotions are actually quite different, it’s easy to get them confused. First off, many people use them interchangeably; you may hear something like, “I’m jealous of his rock-hard abs,” when the correct term would actually be “envious.” Many times, however, jealousy and envy travel together; you may feel jealous when another guy is chatting up your girlfriend, and you may also be envious of some qualities that he has that you don’t.

But chances are, statistically, that guy doesn’t subscribe to What’s the Difference. So at least you have that going for you!

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What's the Difference Between a Bug and an Insect?

Welcome to What’s the Difference, the newsletter committed to bringing you a decisive hit of random, wholly unseasonal knowledge in spite of the thrum of season’s greetings and BOGO deals and shipping notifications overtaking your inbox. Because let’s face it: you probably thought insects and bugs were the same thing, right?? Spoiler: THEY’RE NOT. Read on, my little elves. 

In classic biology taxonomy, all insects belong to a class called Insectasix-legged organisms with three-part bodiesjointed legstwo antennae, and compound eyes (visual organs made up of many visual units clustered together, all with their own corneas and lenses). Insecta falls within the phylum Arthropoda: cold-blooded creatures with an exoskeleton and no backbone. Your classic insects include bees, mosquitoes, butterflies, and ants—all of which fall into a variety of orders/families/genuses/species within the Insecta category.

One of those orders is called Hempitera, and it’s where the bugs live. Bugs are types of insects with certain defining characteristics: 1) They have a mouth shaped like a straw, called a stylet, that’s used to suck up juices from plants or blood from other insects or animals. 2) They have no teeth. 3) They have some weird stuff going on with their wings: their front wings are thickened and colored where they attach to the body and taper out towards the back end of the wing, and their hind wings are usually clear and tucked under the front wings. Some example of true bugs include beetles, stink bugs, and cicadas.

If you’re paying attention, you’ll notice that there’s been no mention of spiders, and that’s because…spiders aren’t insects! Spiders, ticks, mites, and scorpions all belong to a class called Arachnida, a separate class from Insecta within the Arthropoda phylum. Arachnids have eight legs instead of six, two-part bodies instead of three, and simple eyesinstead of compound eyes. They also have different dining rituals: to eat, they inject digestive fluids into their prey before sucking up the liquefied remains. 

So, in summary: All bugs are insects. All insects aren’t bugs. And arachnids are their own separate category, with table manners that I’m looking to for #inspiration this holiday season. Bon appétit!

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What's the Difference Between Sour Cream and Crème Fraîche?

Happy Hanukkah! We may have been taught that this holiday was about celebrating resistance, courage, victory over oppression, the miracle of the Maccabees’ everlasting oil... but who are we kidding? Hanukkah is about eating fried food and sour cream. Here’s the difference between our favorite cultured dairy products, to add some context to your celebration. 

Sour cream, which has a fat content of around 20%, is made by mixing cream with a lactic acid culture; the bacteria thickens and sours it. It may also contain stabilizers, like gelatin or rennin, which aid in the thickening. Sour cream is less expensive than crème fraîche, and since it contains less fat and more protein, it will curdle if you simmer or boil it—so it’s best to use cold or room temperature, or to stir into a hot dish once it’s off the heat.

Crème fraîche—clocking in at 30% fat—is traditionally made with just unpasteurized cream, which naturally contains the bacteria needed to thicken it. However, in the United States, our cream must be pasteurized—so crème fraîche is made by mixing cream with fermenting agents that contain the necessary bacteria. You can actually make your own crème fraîche at home: mix together heavy cream and buttermilk, and let it hang out at room temperature until it reaches its desired thickness (around 8–24 hours). As it sits, the bacteria in the milk converts the sugars (lactose) into lactic acid, which lowers the pH of the mixture and prevents the formation of any unwelcome microbes.

Crème fraîche is thicker, richer (see: fat content), and less tangy than sour cream, and since it won’t curdle if you boil it, it’s great to use in soups and sauces. Or just spoon it into your mouth, unadorned. It’s the holidays, after all.

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What's the Difference Between Jail and Prison?

You can’t spell "correctional facility" without "correct"—and while there’s a lot that’s wrong with the criminal-justice system in this country, we can at least get our terminology right. Exhibit A: jail versus prison. Both are correctional facilities that are used to incarcerate people charged with or convicted of a crime, but the similarities stop there. Let’s get into the differences.

jail is a temporary, short-term detainment center where an individual waits for a trial and sentencing. It’s occupied by people who have just been arrested, who are waiting to post bail, or who are unable to post bail and are waiting for a trial. It also can be where people convicted of smaller crimes—usually misdemeanors—serve a shorter sentence, typically less than one year. Jails are run by local law enforcement or local agencies, and are typically smaller than prisons in both size and infrastructure.

Prisons are where inmates go after getting sentenced for longer-term imprisonment, usually for more serious crimes. They're operated by either the state government or the Federal Bureau of Prisons; people who have been convicted of breaking a state law are sent to state prisons, and people who have been convicted of breaking a federal law are sent to federal prisons. Both prison types are much larger operations than jails; they house many more inmates and are generally set up with more infrastructure and resources suited to longer-term detention. 

On a related note: it’s Giving Tuesday, and if this subject is of interest to you, I’d encourage you to check out the organization Esperanza, which works with families to help young people who are court-involved get back on track towards a positive future. And if you missed Meek Mill’s story in The New York Times yesterday, give it a read, along with this profile of Larry Krasner, the Philadelphia district attorney, from The New York Times Magazine

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