10 commonly misunderstood words

I stumbled upon this list recently at grammar.net.  I’m certainly guilty of misusing a few of them.  How about you?  Any other words you repeatedly hear/see being used incorrectly?  Go on, get it off your chest.

~storytelling nomad~

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24 comments on “10 commonly misunderstood words

  1. Great list. I had no idea of the real meaning of enormity, but immediately remembered half a dozen news reports that used it incorrectly.

    And people using ‘literally’ incorrectly is one of my pet peeves, It makes my teeth grind.

    • Yep, enormity got me too, Jo. I suppose it’s difficult to not misuse words when we are learning by examples that, as you say with the news reports, are being used incorrectly.

  2. Alanis Morissette screwed up any concept of Irony I ever had with her stupid song Ironic which is about amusing or unfortunate coincidences not anything ironic in the first place. She later claimed that’s why the song is called Ironic. Meanwhile, I constantly have to check with my friends whether a situation is ironic or not.

    I also think people often think nonplussed is similar to nonchalant which does mean unaffected, unimpressed, casually calm. Just because they have the NON in front of them. I remember nonplussed by it being the opposite of nonchalant.

    • I agree with you both, Lissa and Jo. Alanis Morissette really screwed up the meaning of ‘irony’ for a lot of people I think! I didn’t know that she later claimed that about the title? Sounds like a bit of back-peddling to me!

      I admit, I never use the word nonplussed, so am at little risk of misusing it! But I don’t doubt at all that people would assume the two to be similar simply because they both habe ‘non’ at the front. Sigh.

  3. I disagree with a couple of these. I mean, I know that the words mean, according to dictionary, what is on the right side of the picture, but some of them have come to mean (through, yes, common misuse) the meaning on the left as well, since that’s just how most people use them. Don’t you think that usage is part of what actually brings a word to have a meaning?

    Look at the word “chair” – once upon a time, it was a simple noun that meant a thing that you sit on. Now it’s turned into a verb (as in, “to chair a meeting”), just like vacation, lunch and friend have turned into verbs as well, all because of the way people began to use them.

    • You make a good point. I actually see little harm in using the word ‘redundant’ as meaning ‘useless/unable to perform its function’ (apparently not how it’s supposed to be used. Woops!). I believe that often the actual definition of a word will emphasise the point you are trying to make by using it out of its intended context, especially in creative writing. And like you say, some words will inevitably evolve over time to have a greater meaning or to reflect a change in society.

      I think it’s words like ‘noisome’ being misunderstood to be ‘noisy’ that are of a greater worry. That is an example of a word being completely misunderstood simply because it looks like another word. Just because a lot of people misunderstand it and use it that way, doesn’t mean it *should* be used that way.

      Thanks for your comments!

  4. Misuse of “literally” is probably the one that annoys me the most.

    I’m pretty forgiving of the Alanis thing, just because it was so obviously a goof (and she should just admit it), and now a lot more people know what “ironic” actually means. Plus I’m favorably disposed toward her because some of her later music was actually quite good.

  5. Pingback: 10 commonly misunderstood words | Creative Writing Inspiration | Scoop.it

  6. I think there are many teenagers who could benefit from this. Many, many teenagers…and other people too. Namely university students, among others.

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