Words. People likey words real good. I mean, we must, right? We use them all of the time. In fact humanity seems to have a fundamental need to communicate whether it be out of necessity, entertainment, or boredom. The problem with so much use is often we misuse those words. Here are the most commonly used words I hear that are used improperly.
You think it means: browsing or skimming something.
What it means: Observe something in depth.
Even I’ve misused this in the past. A brush with a dictionary however brought me up to speed.
You think it means: doing something voluntarily, or by choice.
What it means: being forced or obligated to do something.
The main difference between what this one means and what you think it means is motivation.
You think it means: tragedy or misfortune.
What it means: mockery or parody.
Things can be a complete travesty without being bad. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart is a travesty of news. Not because it’s bad. Actually it’s an excellent show. It remains a travesty however because it mocks the news.
You think it means: something good or great.
What it means: horrific, or terrible.
There are things that can be both good and bad (for example animal culling is both good and bad in that animal herds are thinned to helped the species but, yeah, still with the not good killing part).
You think it means: for example.
What it means: In other words.
I think it has a lot to do with this word being shortened. There are a lot of them (etc=et cetera, ex or e.g.=example to name a couple). When i.e. is used, it’s really just a fancy way of saying “I’ve said this once, but I’m going to say it again only using different words. Here’s a pretty good example: I read comic books; I love sci-fi/fantasy, i.e. I am a nerd.
You think it means: destruction or annihilation.
What it means: To destroy ten percent.
Right now the standing definition of ‘decimate’ is to destroy ten percent of something (the root word indicator being ‘dec’ meaning ‘ten’). That said, this seems to be one of those evolved-meaning words that will become exactly what we mistakenly think it means.
You think it means: without regard.
What it means: nothing at all.
Now I’m all for making up my own vocabulary, but ‘Irregardless’ isn’t a real word. People mean to say ‘regardless’ when they use it. Regardless means ‘without regard’. The fact this word is made up hasn’t stopped it from entering the dictionary however, making word aficionados like myself shake their heads in sorrow. So avoid the ire of people like me, and save having to type anything longer, and just use ‘regardless’ – you know, the correct word.
You think it means: lucky.
What it means: by chance.
People confuse luck and chance all the time. People use them interchangeably so frequently that it has blurred the line in actually describing the two appropriately. Think of it this way: ‘lucky’ is an event that happens by chance one could describe as fortunate. For example, winning a contest is lucky. But ‘fortuitous’ means something simply happening by chance. A good example might be you dropping your ink pen and you bending down to pick it up right as someone who was looking for you steps in.
You think it means: figuratively.
What it means: actually.
All right, this is a relatively new phenomenon. Admittedly the children of the nineties may have helped advance this too. And, I am a child of the nineties (more or less), I know I’ve been guilty of it. But the madness has to stop. When something is literally true, it is actually true. The word’s sudden use in hyperbole to denote emotion is just plain wrong. Saying “I literally died seeing Mandi wear the same prom dress I was” is wrong. That person didn’t actually die. It’s meant to show how embarrassed they were at wearing the same gown to a special occasion. So unless the shock of the embarrassing cause cardiac arrest, it’s doubtful the person ever died from the embarrassment.
The cool thing about the English language is that it is ever evolving. I’m a big advocate of making up new words or phrases and trying them on for size. With the advent of technology, definitions of so many words have changed drastically. Even linguist and master wordsmiths don’t know it all, but if we stop and think about the words we’re using (especially the ones cited above) before we use them, we may just come to a place where we don’t accept common usage as correct usage.