What's the Difference Between …

Buffalo/bison, college/university, lager/ale, and more

Both turtles and tortoises are reptiles that belong to the order Testudines, which also includes the terrapins. Tortoises are assigned to a subclass of Testudines, the family Testudinidae.

Turtles and tortoises have slight physical differences in their limbs, but their chief distinction is habitat. A tortoise spends most of its time on land, while a turtle spends significant time in the water and emerges onto land chiefly for the purpose of laying eggs. A way to keep this straight might be to remember that it was the tortoise, not the turtle, who ran against the hare—in a race held on land.

In addition, tortoises are generally herbivorous, while non-tortoise turtles will include insects and snails in their diet.


College has a number of meanings that have nothing to do with its most common one, the institution of higher education. For our purposes, the term college often gets used interchangeably with university. Compounding the confusion is the fact that a number of well-known schools with college in their name—such as Boston College—are actually, by definition, universities.

There's the two- or four-year college you attend in pursuit of an associate's or bachelor's degree in any of a number of courses of study. Such institutions usually operate as standalone entities.

A university, in contrast, is usually composed of a number of different colleges or schools and in most cases, postgraduate opportunities for advanced degrees in more than one field. That's why you might hear about a person attending "Forbes College at Princeton University," for example.


The terms typhoon, hurricane, and cyclone all describe a similar type of tropical storm with strong, rotational winds moving around a center of low atmospheric pressure. In general parlance, the distinction among them lies in their location. All of them technically are considered cyclones. But hurricane is typically applied to rotating storms in the Atlantic and Northern Pacific oceans, while typhoon is applied to such storms when they occur in the region of the Philippines or the South China Sea.


The chief difference between lager and ale lies in the speed of the brewing process. They are made with different types of yeast, with the fermentation occurring at different temperatures. Ale, which encompasses stouts, porters, and IPAs, is processed at higher temperatures with the yeast floating at the top of the container, and is infused with malt. Lager, which includes pilsners, is matured more slowly and under refrigeration.


A shotgun and a rifle are both designed to be fired from the shoulder. What makes a rifle a rifle is the spiral grooving, or rifling, that lines the barrel. The rifling directs the spin of the bullet and causes it to travel faster, whereas shotguns are smoothbore and produce a more spread-out shot.


Coffin is the word for the rough-hewn wooden box from which you might see Dracula emerge, though early coffins were made of any of a variety of materials. They also came in assorted shapes as different cultures would bury their dead in different positions—some even sitting upright. The traditional coffin has a roughly hexagonal shape, tapered at the head and foot and wider at the shoulders to accommodate the human frame as it lies supine.

A casket originally referred to an ornamental box for jewelry or other valuables. The use of the term for a burial container—specifically, one outfitted with similar ornamentation—took hold only after undertaking began to flourish as a profession in the 19th century.


A lawyer is "one whose profession is to conduct lawsuits for clients or to advise as to legal rights and obligations in other matters." To practice as a lawyer in the U.S., one must obtain a license by passing one's state bar examination.

An attorney is "one who is legally appointed to transact business on another's behalf." Simply put, you can work as an attorney to manage things apart from legal cases. You might be given power of attorney, for example, to manage the accounts of a loved one who is unable to do so themselves, even if you have no background in law. In a court of law, the attorney is usually a lawyer.


Jails and prisons are correctional institutions housing those who are in trouble with the law. In most instances, a jail is used for temporary detainment while an inmate awaits a trial or sentencing. A prison is where one is delivered to carry out a long-term sentence after conviction, especially for higher crimes.


Both bison and buffalo are classified as bovids, which are a family of ruminants that have hollow, permanent horns. Other bovids include antelopes, oxen, sheep, and goats.

Bison is the name of one genus of bovid, and the species Bison bison is the taxonomy of the American buffalo of song, known for roaming on the American plain. But the term buffalo also encompasses such species as the water buffalo (Bubalus bubalis, native to Asia) and the Cape buffalo (Syncerus caffer of sub-Saharan Africa).

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