Word of the Week: Facet

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In subjects like psychology, history, government, or sociology, the word facet usually refers to an aspect, part, or element of something larger. Among academic writers, in particular, facet is a popular word that allows the writer to group together individual characteristics and signal to the reader that one or more of those facets will be discussed (sentences 1-3).

In the context of gemstones, though, a facet is the flat surface of a geometric shape (sentence 4). In describing the body, facet most likely refers to a small, smooth, flat area on a bone or tooth (sentence 5).

  1. There are many facets of athletic skills that can be the focus of attention. (From Albert Bandura, Self-Efficacy: The Exercise of Control)
  2. Many facets of technology are involved in health care.
  3. The problem of gang violence has many different facets.
  4. Diamond rings have a number of different facet arrangements.
  5. Dentists need to make sure that opposing tooth facets match perfectly; if they don't, the patient's bite will be off.

Memory Peg. If you are trying to remember the meaning of facet, link it to the close-up image of a diamond with its different facets or surfaces. Of course, the various facets of a problem are not literally like the facets of a diamond. But each of them represents a particular side or aspect from which the problem can be viewed, much like each facet of a diamond may catch the light under a particular angle.

Specialized Use in Medicine. Facet Joints (also known as z-joints) separate the vertebrae of the spine and allow the spine to twist. The link between the term facet joints and ordinary uses of the word facets is the fact that, like a multi-faceted diamond, facet joints consist of several small, smooth areas. The resulting irregular surface allows them to fit neatly between the vertebrae of the spine.

Comprehension Checks

1. A social problem with many different facets usually has one easy solution.

2. A person who can write and draw well, along with being a world-class ice skater and an award-winning clothing designer, could correctly be described as being a multi-faceted talent.

3. In describing what it's like to be in middle school, the novelist Rick Riordan uses a common writing pattern. He introduces what he wants to talk about in general terms, referring to "facets of identity." Then he individualizes them:

"It's hard enough to be a middle-school kid, because you're dealing with so many facets of your identity—you're changing socially, you're changing physically, you're changing emotionally, everything is in flux, and to put race on top of that as well and have to figure out your racial identity is extremely hard."
How many facets of identity does Riordan describe? What are they?

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Last update of this page: March 22, 2014