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‘Interment’ or ‘Internment’?

"Interment" and "internment" sound a lot alike, and they're both unpleasant things, but they have different roots and different meanings.

By
Mignon Fogarty ,
July 5, 2018

‘Interment’ and ‘internment’ are both unpleasant, but they mean different things.

‘Interment’

‘Interment’ is being buried in the ground. After you die, if you choose to be buried, your body is interred. It comes from the Latin words for “in the earth”: in” and “terra.” It’s the same “terra” that gives us the words “terrarium,” “territory,” “terrain,” and the dog of the earth (the “terrier”). Here’s an example: 

  • The family stopped fighting long enough to attend grandfather’s interment.

‘Internment’

“Internment” refers to being confined or detained, especially for political reasons and without trial. It comes from a French word that means “to send to the interior” or “to confine.” According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the phrase “internment camp” was first published in 1904 in the London newspaper, “The Observer,” to describe a camp for Russian refugees. Here’s a more recent example:

Japanese Internment Camps

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As an aside, I visited Manzanar, one of the internment camps, a few years ago when we were on a road trip, and it was well worth the stop. It’s now a National Historic Site run by the National Park Service dedicated to preserving this shameful part of our country’s history so people don’t forget.

‘Intern’ and ‘Internship’

Finally, this tip also made me think of a common error I used to hear when I was a professor. Students would talk about getting an intern instead of getting an internship.

The position is called an internship, and the person who has the position is called an intern. Students would sometimes say something like, “I’m doing an intern this summer,” to which I would say, “Um, I don’t think that’s what you mean.”

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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