Insulation and isolation

Both are isolatie in Dutch, so it can cause confusion. Especially as there are cases where both get used in English (electrics, for instance).

Insulation means placing a material as a barrier two substances or zones (or indeed the material used to do so), whereas isolation means physical separation.

  • So your house has thermal insulation, double glazing is a form of insulation, electrical wires have an insulating sheath around them, and marine mammals have a layer of fat as insulation from the cold water.
  • Whereas coronavirus quarantine is isolation (hospitals can have isolation wards), physically switching off an electricity group or power circuit is isolating it, or a population of animals evolving alone because they can’t interact with others is isolation.
  • Separating out a chemical substance or a microorganism is isolation.
  • Isolation is also used for people (such as the elderly living alone) and the emotional state of loneliness or feeling cut off.

Time I got these posts moving again, after a desperately busy finish to the year plus a couple of trips away… inevitably followed by significant periods of (you guessed it) Covid isolation.

Prevalence: high. A widely used word in Covid times…
Frequency: moderate. Scientific writers are often aware of this one, although by no means always. Others will generally use isolation and not consider insulation.
Native: no. Two distinct concepts for us.

Published by Mike Wilkinson

Twenty years of translating and editing Dutch into English, as well as writing and publishing in English.

2 thoughts on “Insulation and isolation

    1. Yup, that one’s on the list… A nice example. But probably comes up in my work less than yours, though, given your medical specialization.

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