Now, there are many words people use incorrectly, lie v. lay and even affect v. effect. But, there are some words that everyone believes they are using correctly (everyone being the majority of native English speakers) and are not. So, just as a refresher course, or maybe even an introduction, I will provide a list of the many words we use incorrectly or confuse the meaning of.
And in the words of Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride, those who know better will often be thinking, “I don’t think that word means what you think it means.”
The Short List:
Basically- This means that what you are referring to is the most important part of whatever you are discussing. It is synonymous with “fundamentally.”
Ironic- Quite often people use the word “ironic” when what they really mean is “coincidental.” Irony deals with a reversal, turning the expected on its head.
Nauseous- How many times have you said that you were nauseous? Well, that means that the sight of you makes others want to through up. What you truly mean is “I’m nauseated” meaning that you yourself are feeling ill.
Farther- “Farther” suggests a physical distance that is measured such as miles or meters. Many confuse this with the word “further” which simply means “more” or additional.”
Fortuitous- I do not care about what you thought up until this point, but this word is not synonymous with “fortunate.” It means that there was an unexpected turn of events. It means “coincidental” or “unplanned.”
Irregardless- Guess what? This is not even a word! That’s right, what you truly mean is “regardless.”
Noisome- Although it is a bit counter-intuitive, this word means “smelly” not “noisy.”
Broach-This is not a piece of jewelry, that is a “brooch”, this word means to address a topic.
For more words, I suggest The Elements of Style by Strunk & White. It is an old book but is a great tool for writers or anyone else who wants to get their point across in a cogent manner. While grammar and spell-checkers are nice, it is extremely important that we never lose the ability to understand language.
And now, the devil’s advocate…
Neologisms, new words that become accepted by the majority and therefore become legitimate. One neologism is the word “assasination,” created by William Shakespeare, a more recent being the word “bootylicious” brought to us by the group Destiny’s Child. As I mentioned earlier, many of these words are misused by the majority of native English speakers. So why not simply change the meaning?
Although I can see why some people would view that to be helpful, changing the meaning of a word and a neologism are not the same thing. Additionally, it is not as though there is not a word that fits these descriptions. The issue is that most simply either never learned or have forgotten proper usage. And while the educational system is one thing, I do not think that switching definitions to make things easier is the right solution. Think of it this way, my last name is Powell. It is one syllable, that is the way to pronounce it. Once someone mispronounced my name, using two syllables. Later on, someone commented that I had no right to correct them because, although it was my name, it was up to them how they pronounce it. That doesn’t seem quite right, does it? Well, neither does misusing words and advocating for a change of the English lexicon.
Consider this, many non-native speakers learn English with a strict focus on grammar, if they were to come to the United States, they would have a hard time if everything they learned was the opposite of what was being spoken, would they not? Additionally, scholars and educators still use these words in the proper way. So, in short, let’s put that option in the trash.
What are we left with? A re-education?
On the other hand,
There are some words that are okay to misuse, in fact, some words have gained new definitions. If you don’t believe me, let’s think about the word unicorn.
Unicorn- A horned horse? Yes, but not only. Now people use it to describe anything unique or seemingly unattainable. And I hear that there is another definition for it in the tech world. But is this a new definition or is is just slang? I am not the best one to answer that question but I do believe that there is no such thing as illegitimate language or broken speech.
And what does this mean for spoken language? I am unsure of the answer to that but I do know that as words continue to adapt, new ones are created and the world changes, there will be plenty more of these lists in the future.