Top 10 Words You’re Probably Not Using Right

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Language is a very interesting and fascinating thing, as long as it’s used correctly. Sadly, this does not happen nearly as often as it should. There are several words that, despite being uttered by tons of people, are actually used incorrectly all the time. In fact, they are used incorrectly so often, their meanings seem to shift in people’s minds. Hopefully this list will set everyone straight and bring clarity to word meanings and definitions.

10. Penultimate

Penn-Ultimate

Though a bit uncommon as of late, this word has been readily used incorrectly in years past. So many people use this word to signify a great amount or the ultimate amount, but that’s simply not correct. The word penultimate doesn’t signify a large or vast number of variables, or the abundance of something — it actually means the second-to-last item in a list of several. So if we are talking about a novel that has fifteen chapters, chapter fourteen would be the penultimate chapter.

9. Figuratively

happy-as-a-clam

For some reason, this word gets misused all the time in favor of a word that is actually the antonym for it. Many people use the word literally and figuratively as if they are interchangeable or as if they are synonyms. They simply are not. The word figurative means metaphorical, so figuratively speaking means metaphorically speaking. Literally means the exact opposite. Even in the definition for the word, it states that figurative is the departing from the literal use of words.

So if you want to say you exploded with happiness, remember that you did so figuratively. If you had literally exploded from happiness, that would be extremely tragic, not to mention messy.

8. Pristine

pristine-room

Many people use this word to mean “spotless or good as new,” but many people are wrong. Pristine doesn’t actually mean something is without a blemish or marking, nor does it mean something is cleaned to perfection. The actual word “pristine” means in a state that is almost completely unchanged from the original. So within this definition, if something has to be reworked or cleaned or made to look a certain way, then it can no longer be pristine, because it has been tainted and changed too much from its original form. In other words, if you want your bathroom to look pristine, you must buy it brand-new, never ever use it, and never ever let anyone or anything inside it, ever.

7. Ultimate

ultimate-warrior

If the first entry of this list gives you any clue or indication, you’ve probably been using the word “ultimate” incorrectly. When it is used as an adjective, the word actually can describe something that is the best or the most extreme example.

But what many people fail to realize is that this word can be used as a noun as well. Within that particular context, the word ultimate means the final, or fundamental fact or variable of it’s kind. So while Chapter 14 in our hypothetical 15-chapter book was the penultimate chapter, then the ultimate chapter would be the 15th one, not necessarily the best or most exciting.

6. Comprise

mcintyre-comprise

This word is included because, while the meaning isn’t necessarily unknown, the context and way in which it is oftentimes used is incorrect. The word “comprise” means to consist of something, or to be made up of something. The word “of” is important to note because this is where the verbiage can sometimes get tricky. When some people use this word they often include the word “of” in congruence with comprise, as in “this cake is comprised of eggs and flour.” This is incorrect, seeing as the word itself already includes the word “of” in the definition. So not only is another “of” redundant, it changes the premise of the sentence. The cake is not comprised of eggs and flour, it comprised eggs and flour. Also, it is a lie.

5. Decimate

decimated-building

This word is often used incorrectly in a specific context, because it deals with many different variables and options. The word “decimate” does not mean to destroy something completely and leaving nothing behind. It actually means to destroy a great or large amount, not the entire amount. Some people tend to use this word in absolute and complete terms, as if there is nothing that can be done or said or seen after the decimation takes place.

Think of it this way: if a 10-story building gets decimated, then there should still be a story or two left over after the decimation. If all ten stories get destroyed, then the building has not been decimated. It has been obliterated.

4. Irregardless

irregardless

Sometimes people get so confused about the words that they readily use, they either make up or combine words that they think mean the same thing. This is definitely the case with the word “irregardless,” which has only recently been included in some dictionaries. For the longest time, it couldn’t be found because it simply did not exist. That’s right, the general public simply invented a word and used it over and over until Mr. Funk and Mr. Wagnalls begrudgingly accepted it. However, they still note that it should be avoided by proper English speakers.

Whomever was the first to say this word undoubtedly started using it to mean both regardless and irrespective. However, the word regardless would perfectly and adequately describe what they were referring to, so inventing a whole new word was just plain useless.

3. Dawn

Dawn-swifts-creek

This word gets confused and misused all the time. People readily use it to describe a nice sunrise, but this is actually completely false. The actual definition for the word means “before the Sun rises.” Anyone who has watched or waited for the sun to rise in the morning knows that there is a sequence of several moments before the Sun peaks over the horizon, where there is light illuminating throughout the sky, even though no part of the Sun can be seen. This is essentially what dawn is: the light that is noticeable before the Sun starts to rise. So while “it’s always darkest before the dawn” technically works as a cliche, ol’ Sol actually has nothing to do with it.

2. Fortuitous

Fortuitous-own-goal

This is a case of a word sounding like another word, and people erroneously using them interchangeably because it sounds correct. The confusion exists because the word “fortuitous” has a root word that looks a lot like the word fortune. Therefore, people figure that it means “occurring by luck,” or having something to do with being lucky. Nope — “fortuitous” actually means “something that happens by chance.” Luck almost always has a positive connotation attached to it, but things that happen by chance can be either negative or positive. Luck and chance are not the same thing. Things that happen by chance can be closely compared to things that happen by coincidence, but not luck or irony. So whether you get rich by playing craps or lose your house, the result was a fortuitous occurance.

1. Alas

hamlet-yorick

So many people use this word incorrectly that it’s kind of ridiculous. “Alas” is so often used the same way that “but,” “however,” or “in addition to” are used. This is — in no particular order — wrong, wrong, and wrong. The word “alas” is actually meant to be used as an interjection that, more often than not, symbolizes or infers concern, pity, grief, regret, or some other negative emotion. You know, like how Hamlet used it when mourning Yorick. The fact that such an iconic scene utilizes the word correctly, and yet people repeatedly misuse it anyway, makes us want to explode. Figuratively, of course.


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15 Comments

  1. Talk about “a waste of breath”, if their are only 10 wrong or lopsided uses of words, we are doing quite a bit right. Even my English teacher, God rest her soul would be happy with things like they are. Like beauty, ignorance is in the eye or ear of the beholder.

    • Oh, the irony. You cannot make it 10 words into your own reply without misusing a pronoun. I’m sorry, but you deserve this forthcoming insult.

      YOU ARE A FREAKING MORON!!!!

      Have a good night.

    • Who said there are only ten words being used incorrectly?

      Also, in the comic in #4, it’s “with REGARD to.” Not “regards.”

  2. Do permit me to point out that the author has committed a violation in the very title of this article. It should read “Top 10 Words You’re Probably Not Using Correctly.” Don’t use an adjective there; you need an adverb.

  3. “…if a 10-story building gets decimated, then there should still be a story or two left over after the decimation.” WRONG. WRONG. WRONG. After decimation, nine (9) stories would be left because decimate is to destroy a 10th of the whole. It was punishment from the old Roman legions.

      • While you are not wrong, neither is the author. Historically the word decimate was used as you have mentioned, to destroy one of every ten. In more recent times, however, the definition of the word means to destroy a large portion of. I suspect that within another generation or so the definition could change again to be synonymous with obliterate.

  4. There is also the word “covert” almost always used improperly. Covert is actually TWO words, one an adjective and the other a noun. The two words mean entirely different things and are pronounced differently.

    The adjective “covert” should be pronounced like “cuh-vert” and used to describe something hidden or clandestine, (such as the operations of the NSA or CIA). The other “covert” is pronounced Ko-vert is a noun, and, describes a heavy woolen cloth that is used in making uniforms and coats.

    Some dictionaries include both, others do not. However, one thing is certain, it is almost always misused.

  5. “That’s right, the general public simply invented a word and used it over and over until Mr. Funk and Mr. Wagnalls begrudgingly accepted it.”

    This is how a large majority of words are created. The English language is not a static thing; usage, meaning and even spelling have always been constantly shifting and changing. If these words are commonly used to convey meaning and are understood by a majority of people then that is a legitimate use of the word.

    I think that is something to celebrate, rather than sneer at.

  6. For #6, comprise, the dictionary the author linked to included the “comprised of” usage as correct.
    “(be comprised of) documents are comprised of words”

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