Relating Correlation

Breakfast cereal a go-go:

Me: I swear, it’s on the box
The Fiber One box: Cardboard no. Delicious yes. (TM)
Jenn: I don’t care what it says, that box is lying!

This exchange brought up an enlightening little bit of verbal back-and-forth that I won’t recap here, but that ends with me investigating the differences between “relate” and “correlate”.

So how do I decouple two words that seemingly mean the same thing? How does a relationship differ from a correlation?

As always, my trusty guide is Merriam-Webster:


: to show or establish logical or causal connection between


: either of two things so related that one directly implies or is complementary to the other (as husband and wife)

If I’ve learned one thing from both research meetings and the XKCD webcomic, it’s that correlation and causation are two different (but related [nice!]) concepts.

If “relate” can be taken to imply a causation in at least one of its forms, then the difference is clear.

I was going to argue that relate seems more active – something applied to the humanities and live sciences – the relationship between spouses, children, animals or the environment. Correlate seems somehow colder, more distant; clinical.

I’m pretty sure those thoughts are at odds with Merriam-Webster but their differentiation is more elegant since it focuses on “relate” being causal and “correlate” being, well, “correlative”. I leave it to you to figure out the rest.

Until next time.