It’s Only Words…
“It’s only words, and words are all I have
To take your heart away…” ~ Bee Gees, “Words”
What are the ten most commonly misunderstood words in the English language? I am sure we all have words that we think should be on this list—but this list is one that had me rethinking my definitions. Derived from grammar.net they were shared on a blog I frequent called Writers Write. (You know I don’t care either where I got the words, but I have to acknowledge my sources just so you don’t think I am smart enough to come up with this stuff myself.)
Anyway, the ten words are: enormity, nonplussed, bemused, redundant, plethora, unique, fulsome, noisome, ironic, and literally. Admittedly we do not use all of these words on a daily basis, which could explain why they are commonly misunderstood. You may be surprised that your definition is not the true meaning of the word. Then again, you may be absolutely brilliant and know the definition of each and every one of these words. I believe that I knew the true meaning of many of the words, but some surprised me.
Enormity does not mean enormous. Who knew? It means “monstrous evil, excessive wickedness, (and) outrageous.” So when someone describes the “enormity” of a situation, they are not just talking its size, they are talking about its badness. I must say that I did not know that and will certainly watch my words when I am describing a situation—and hope I never run into one of enormity. Though if you watch the news there are plenty of situations that unfortunately can be described this way.
Nonplussed means bewildered, extremely puzzled, at a loss. Not, unimpressed or unaffected. I find that I am nonplussed a lot. Bewildered is my middle name. Extremely puzzled is my game. And I am at a loss a lot. (Okay, I admit it, I am having a bit of fun at the expense of nonplussed.) Bemused is not mildly amused. It is apparently a cousin of nonplussed because it too means bewildered and confused. But here is where it differ–it also means “lost in thought.” I am not all that sure that when you are lost in thought, you are bewildered and confused, but maybe the meanings are meant to stand alone. Perhaps one is bewildered and confused OR lost in thought. Now I am bewildered and confused.
Redundant does not mean useless. It means needlessly wordy or repetitive. Which I think can be defined as useless, but apparently I am wrong. Plethora is not merely having a lot of something, it is having a superabundance of something. And here I thought plethora meant having a lot of different somethings. A variety. But no, it is having a superabundance or excess of something. I believe that this paragraph has a plethora of the word something.
Unique means “the only one of its kind” not just unusual. Unusual is rare or uncommon but does not reach the pinnacle of being uniquely unparalleled. The definition of fulsome left me completely nonplussed and a bit bemused. It sounds like such a lovely generous word, but it is “offensively flattering and insincere” rather than being the “abundant praise” I thought it was. Dodged a bullet here. Thank you grammar.net.
Noisome is not just noisy. In fact it does not have to be noisy at all, though noise could fall under its umbrella. Noisome means obnoxious, harmful, (and) offensive to the senses. I hope this column does not fall under the category of noisome. The last thing I want to do is offend your senses. Or bore you. “Hey you in the back corner: Wake up!”
Ironic is also on the list, and ironically it is not an “amusing coincidence” but instead, the “opposite outcome of what is expected”. (I know, I know, I did not use ironic entirely correctly but I am calling this poetic licence for lack of a better excuse). Last, but most assuredly not least, one of my favourite words: literally. It means “word for word” which also means I have probably never used it correctly. Ever.
Alas, the Bee Gees were right: “words are all I have” even if I use them incorrectly….