Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: spartan; sparse.

spartan; sparse. "Spartan" is the antonym of "luxurious," and "sparse" the antonym of "luxuriant." But there the similarities end. In ancient Greece, the people of Sparta were known as being stoical, frugal, simple, laconic, brave, disciplined, and indifferent to comfort or luxury. From them we get the adjective "spartan," which describes someone with the qualities just listed {the spartan pioneers of the American West}. By extension, a person's surroundings, diet, or lifestyle can be spartan when comforts or luxuries are few {a spartan life on the prairie}. E.g.: "He doesn't like the idea of Elke entering his home and seeing how bare he keeps it, how spartan his life is." Donna Jo Napoli & Richard Tchen, Spinners 85 (1999). The word "sparse" means "not densely packed; scattered" {sparse trees on the plain} {a sparsely populated area}. Undoubtedly through mistaken sound-association, people have begun misusing "sparse" for "spartan" — e.g.: o "The cramped front hall remains pretty much as it was more than 100 years ago. Visitors instantly get a sense of the hunkered-down, sparse [read 'spartan'] existence of the [tenement] building's residents." Patrick Connolly, "Walking Tour Peeks at the Past," Tennessean, 7 Apr. 2002, at G1. o "Spec. Kevin Conforti's temporary home is a tent where about 17 soldiers sleep in sleeping bags on cots. A small stove at the end provides heat. Despite the rather sparse [read 'spartan'] accommodations, Conforti, of Okmulgee, says the training is very good." Barbara Hoberock, "Oklahoma Guard Troops Prepare to Deploy Overseas," Tulsa World, 17 Dec. 2002, at A11. Language-Change Index — "sparse" misused for "spartan": Stage 1. ——————– Quotation of the Day: "The use of a more or less uniform standard by all members of the speaking community is desirable in the interests of efficiency rather than of esthetics." Mario Pei, "The Dictionary as a Battlefront: English Teachers' Dilemma" (1962), in Words, Words, Words About Dictionaries 100, 108 (Jack C. Gray ed., 1963).
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