from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • transitive v. To remove the fuse from (an explosive device).
  • transitive v. To make less dangerous, tense, or hostile: a diplomatic move that defused the international crisis.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • v. To remove the fuse from (a bomb, etc.).
  • v. To make less dangerous, tense, or hostile.
  • v. To disorder; to make shapeless.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • transitive v. To disorder; to make shapeless.
  • transitive v. To remove the fuse from; to deactivate (a bomb or other explosive device) or make it ineffective.
  • transitive v. To make less dangerous.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • etc. See diffuse, etc.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • v. remove the triggering device from


de- +‎ fuse (Wiktionary)
Compare diffuse. (Wiktionary)



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  • In my experience, that usually tends to increase it. ;-)

    May 20, 2010

  • Well, in theory you could diffuse tension by spreading it among people but that would hardly improve the situation.

    May 20, 2010

  • It definitely matters. "Diffuse" isn't the appropriate word there.

    May 20, 2010

  • Right. So you're dissipating tension, or defusing a situation.

    May 19, 2010

  • "Diffuse" and "defuse" are not interchangeable, and the former is now often misused for the latter. The following is from my book THE ACCIDENTS OF STYLE, which will be published by St. Martin's Press this August:

    If your intended meaning is “to spread out, scatter, or disseminate,” use diffuse. Lamps diffuse light. The sun diffuses fog. And kindergarten teachers diffuse rudimentary knowledge while their sniffling, sneezing pupils diffuse germs.

    If your intended meaning is “to make something less harmful or troublesome,” use defuse. You can defuse a bomb, render it harmless, or defuse a ticklish or potentially explosive situation.

    May 19, 2010

  • do you ever look at the Twitter feeds? This one was in with defuse: "Ok now I'm not saying I'm excited for MacGruber but I just tried to defuse a bomb with pantyhose, a lighter and some cat hair. Didn't work "

    Other people lead such interesting lives.

    May 19, 2010

  • That makes sense.

    May 19, 2010

  • I think it matters. If you're defusing, I'd say "the situation" should be the object--as thtownse says, as if the situation were going to explode--but if you want to do something to the tension, it seems like diffuse is the way to go. Tension doesn't really explode.

    It does, however, get thick. I mean, I guess so. People say so, anyhow.

    May 19, 2010

  • Good question. I think the difference is whether the tension is going to explode, in which case it is defused (bomb-like). But a less tangible tension would be diffused.

    May 19, 2010

  • If a situation is turning tense, and I do something to ease the tension, what's the right verb? Did I defuse the situation or diffuse the tension? Does it matter?

    May 19, 2010