I recently wrote an article titled 10 words you’ve probably been misusing that a very surprising number of readers seemed to enjoy.
Because one can write only so much in an Internet article before people get distracted, I limited the original piece to 10 words. Luckily, today is a new day, and this is a new post, so behold! Ten more words.
However, after reading a small chunk of the 600 comments on the last piece, I feel a need to preface this sequel by saying a couple of things.
1. A more accurate title for this article might be “10 Words That May Not Mean What You Think They Mean” but I’m keeping the original title simply so that people realize it’s a follow-up to the original.
2. Many of these words have developed new definitions over time. I’m basing my arguments on the original definitions of the words, not the ones we’ve given them. Are denotative definitions more accurate than connotative ones? I don’t know. I’ll let you guys figure that out.
What you may think it means: a lot
What it actually means: superabundance, an excess
When you say, “I have a plethora of friends,” you are suggesting that you have too many friends, so many that you may not even be able to handle them all. On the other hand, when you say “I have a lot of friends,” you’re implying a manageable level of popularity. Learn this definition, people. Your social life depends on it.
What you may think it means: to bypass
What it actually means: to go before
This one is a matter of spelling. To forego does not mean “to opt out of” (as in, “I think I’ll forego eating dinner with your creepy neighbor”). Rather, it means “to precede in place or time.” (Example: “I just watched ‘Jaws’ for the first time and I’ve been watching Shark Week specials all day. For the foregoing reasons, I have decided not to swim with you at the beach today.”) The word you’re looking for is forgo. (Example: “…I have decided to forgo swimming with you …”)
What you may think it means: capable of injecting venom
What it actually means: capable of causing death or illness if taken into the body
Certain snakes are venomous because they inject venom into your system directly. However, unless you ate or touched one of these snakes and got sick, they would not necessarily be considered poisonous. Moral of the story: Don’t call anything poisonous unless you’ve tasted it first. (I’m totally kidding. Please don’t eat any snakes. Please.)
What you may think it means: actually
What it actually means: in a literal manner
I was going to leave this word out, because you can probably find someone complaining about “literally” on any word-related message board on the Internet right now, but many people suggested that I include it, so here we are. I’m not going to tell you to stop saying, “My mind has literally been blown,” because “literally” is my favorite word to misuse, especially when you say it like “li-tra-lee,” because it reminds me of British people, so carry on.
What you may think it means: lucky
What it actually means: occurring by chance
In the pilot episode of “Friends,” Ross admits that he wants to be married again and Rachel, dressed in a wedding gown, stumbles into the coffee shop. This is an example of fortuitous timing. Fortuitous situations are sometimes lucky, but not always, which explains how these two definitions are often confused.
What you may think it means: superultimate
What it actually means: next to last
Penultimate is not a superlative for ultimate. In fact, I can’t think of any word that has pen as a “super” prefix. A pencil is not a super “cil.” A pendulum is not a super “dulum.” A penny is not a super New York. (Get it?) None of those is real. Stop it.
What you may think it means: finally
What it actually means: an expression of grief, pity, or concern
The next time you say, “Alas! I have completed my homework,” ask yourself: are you upset about this fact? If the answer is no, choose a different word. Because it is not a synonym for “finally.”
What you may think it means: to rebut, to argue against
What it actually means: to disprove with evidence
There is a small, but very important, difference between these two definitions. You can rebut your friend’s argument against the nonexistence of centaurs, sure. However, if you refute your friend’s claim, you better be prepared to present a live centaur, because that word requires evidence.
What you may think it means: unusual
What it actually means: one of a kind
If unique were a scent, it would probably be “skunk” or “grandma’s perfume” because according to the dictionary, it is, by nature, such a strong word, it does not need any adverbs to accompany it. (A child can be unique, not very unique.)
What you may think it means: too unlikely/undesirable to be considered a possibility
What it actually means: not capable of being imagined or grasped mentally
The word that started it all. Something is inconceivable if you cannot wrap your mind around it. Someone once asked me: What if every thought that has ever been imagined by humans is represented by a particle of sand? Would there be enough? And while I know the answer is no, both concepts are still difficult to grasp in my mind. That’s inconceivable.