I understand that not everyone is a huge language nerd like me. There’s no reason the average yahoo needs to know words like “defenestrate” and “prelapsarian” (although those are my favorite words, and if you want to impress me, you’ll toss them into conversation).
However, there are some things the average person SHOULD know like what a noun is.
The problem I have with the commonly misused words in this post is that there is no real need to use them. It’s not a to/two/too or a your/you’re or even a they’re/their/there. Those are unavoidable.
The words below are often tossed into business writing and conversation to make the speaker sound smart. However, when there’s an educated listener around, these words have the opposite effect.*
Save yourself the humiliation and stop using these words (or start using them correctly).
What you think it means: “Use” but all fancy and smart-sounding like
What it actually means: To make or render useful, as in for an unintended purpose
You’re using it wrong: We utilized the password to gain access to the security system.
Why you’re wrong: Passwords are designed specifically to get someone past a security measure. This is exactly what its intended use is. However, you could utilize a dismantled taser gun to get past the security measure, as this is not the taser’s intended purpose.
What works just fine: We used the password to gain access to the security system.
What you think it means: funny, coincidental, weird, interesting
What it actually means: Describing the outcome of events that is the opposite of what is expected, not one effing thing in the Alanis Morissette song (seriously)
You’re using it wrong: I hit a deer on this road a year ago, and I hit another one twenty minutes ago. Isn’t that ironic?
Why you’re wrong: Unless you have received intensive driver’s education training, deer have been removed from the area, and you were going 5 miles an hour in broad daylight, hitting a deer for a second time in the same location is NOT the least expected event. In fact, it’s likelier that an area known for deer wandering across the roadway would be a more likely place for a repeat incident.
What works just fine: I hit a deer on this road a year ago, and I hit another one twenty minutes ago. Should I be driving?
What you think it means: Extremely, very, like whoa
What it actually means: Exactly what you are describing has actually happened
You’re using it wrong: I was so blown away by Jana’s powerful prose that my brain literally exploded.
Why you’re wrong: As moving as my writing is, it is highly unlikely that a) the human brain would explode outward in response to such inspired words and b) you could discuss it afterward.
What works just fine: I was so blown away by Jana’s powerful prose that I immediately mailed her a large check.
What you think it means: The opposite of “plussed” which is, like, upset or something, so… calm? Does it mean calm?
What it actually means: To be so confused that you don’t know what to do
You’re using it wrong: He was surprisingly nonplussed when his girlfriend turned into a werewolf.
Why you’re wrong: The word just plain doesn’t mean what you think it does. You kind of guessed based on what the word looked like or read someone else using it wrong and just went with it.
What works just fine: He was surprisingly calm after his girlfriend turned into a werewolf, because he’d been looking for a reason to break up with her anyway.
RIFLE (as a verb)
What you think it means: To go through someone’s stuff
What it actually means: To go through someone’s stuff with the intention of stealing something
You’re using it wrong: I rifled through her closet and showed her the pink belt.
Why you’re wrong: “Rifling” is often used interchangeably with “snooping” or “trashing.” Both of these may be associated with the word “rifling,” but neither include the intention to steal the desired item if found.
What works just fine: I searched through her closet and showed her the pink belt. She’d better not accuse me of taking her stuff again.
Do you misuse any of these words? What words you hear other people misusing? At what point does the rampant misuse of the word change the very definition itself? Sound off in the comments below!
Until next time, keep expanding your brand!
*OH, LOOK, HOW IRONIC.