As bloggers, reviewers, authors, or email writers, we are crafters of words. English is a wonderful language, with words for every occasion. We do, however, use many incorrectly.
I don’t know if my aversion to improperly used words and phrases is because I went to school eons ago or if we have become slack in our speech, but I cringe when I hear or see words that someone is trying to make mean something they simply don’t.
Below is a partial list of words that are used erroneously, some to the point that because of corrupted usage, they have actually come to take on the improper meaning. I start with my all-time favorite. We hear it all the time, which I reiterate, does not make it mean something it doesn’t.
Means: to select by lot and kill every tenth man or to exact a tax of 10 percent
Does not mean: To completely wipe out or annihilate
The traditional definition of decimate is to “kill one in every ten.” In fact, “Decimation” was originally practiced by the Roman Army as a form of punishment. The more commonly accepted, modern definition of decimate involves extensive destruction. It’s important to recognize that neither meaning of decimate allows for the idea of absolute, total destruction.
Means: a very large number of things.
To say “She has myriad ideas” is sufficient, whereas “She has a myriad of ideas” is incorrect.
If you use however at the beginning of a sentence and don’t insert a comma, however means “in whatever manner,” “to whatever extent,” or “no matter how.” For instance, Winston Churchill said, “However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.” When you put a comma after however at the beginning of a sentence, everyone knows it means “nevertheless.” You shouldn’t start a sentence with however when you mean “nevertheless” or “but.”
Hello Giggles helped me out with some, from Ironic to Terrific
What you may think it means: a funny coincidence
What it actually means: contrary to what you might expect
What you may think it means: to skim or glance over something
What it actually means: to review something carefully/in-depth
What you may think it means: to hold a conversation
What it actually means: ABSOLUTELY NOTHING
We converse or have a conversation.
What you may think it means: repetitive
What it actually means: superfluous, able to be cut out (The British use this word in downsizing situations)
What you may think it means: awesome, fantastic
What it actually means: causing terror
Does not mean: To give one’s enthusiastic permission or agreement
Does mean: To passively agree, even if you have a negative opinion of what you’re agreeing to
Does not mean: To voluntarily do something, usually out of a moral or internal impulse
Does mean: To be forced, obligated or pressured into doing something
Does not mean: Uninterested, as in “bored” by the outcome of something
Does mean: Impartial, not influenced by the outcome of something
Does not mean: Very quickly, with lightning speed
Does mean: A specific point in time.
Does not mean: Regardless
Does mean: Nothing, because it’s not a real word. (My mother, God rest her soul, used to say this all the time.)
Does not mean: Enormousness
Does mean: A profoundly evil or immoral act
Does not mean: Severe or intense
Does mean: A condition or state that lasts for a protracted period
Does not mean: For example
Does mean: In other words
Does not mean: The pinnacle or the best
Does mean: The final entry in a list of items
Does not mean: As if by luck
Does mean: As if by chance
Should not be used: To indicate strong emphasis (like the German “doch”) or as a way to comment on something that did not happen in reality but occurred figuratively
Should be used: To indicate that something actually happened
Incorrect Usage: My daughter’s play was comprised of three acts.
Correct Usage: My daughter’s play comprised three acts.
The meaning of comprise is, “to consist of.” In this way, it’s unnecessary to employ “of” in its use.
Incorrect usage: Gerald’s angry tendencies often turned into bombastic fits of rage.
Correct usage: Jane and I both agreed that the senator’s bombastic speech wasn’t going to prove conducive to any actual change.
There’s a tendency to assume the “bomb” in bombastic is similar to hot-tempered, ticking time “bomb”-like people. Bombastic, as an adjective that does nothing to describe a person’s temperament. Rather, bombastic is used to describe individuals who use complicated, fancy language with the sole intent of impressing others.
Incorrect usage: The house party next door grew to be quite noisome as the night progressed.
Correct usage: The motorists were unaware that their vehicle had begun to spew noisome black smoke from its tailpipe.
Noisome has nothing to do with decibels, bass, or noise of any kind. Rather, noisome describes an unthinkably horrible smell. You can also use noisome in a scandalous sense, in instances where a person’s behavior is crass, unrefined, or lacking in moral judgment.
People think it means: “Spotless” or “as good as new.”
Actually means: “Ancient, primeval; in a state virtually unchanged from the original.”
People think it means: Unperturbed, not worried.
Actually means: Utterly perplexed or confused. It comes from the Latin non plus (a state in which nothing more can be done).
People think it means: Mildly amused.
Actually means: Bewildered or confused.
People think it means: A lot of something.
Actually means: Too much of something, an overabundance.
Next month I tackle confusing pairs of words.
Until then, big hugs,
Born in a small town in Upstate New York, Brita Addams has made her home in the sultry south for many years. In the Frog Capital of the World, Brita shares her home with her real-life hero—her husband, and a fat cat named Stormee. All their children are grown.
Given her love of history, Brita writes both het and gay historical romance. Many of her historicals, as well as few contemporaries, have appeared on category bestseller lists at various online retailers.
Tarnished Gold, the first in her Tarnished series for Dreamspinner, received honorable mention, and is a finalist in the 2013 Rainbow Awards, historical romance category.
A bit of trivia—Brita pronounces her name, Bree-ta, and not Brit-a, like the famous water filter. Brita Addams is a mash-up of her real middle name and her husband’s middle name, with an additional d and s.
Including 2013 Rainbow Award Winner Tarnished Gold – Historical Category