22 Everyday Words You Might Not Realize You’ve Been Using Incorrectly
AUG. 21, 2013
By NICO LANG
Did you know that the word “terrific” originally meant something completely different? A lot of the words we use have changed meaning over time, differing from their common or intended use. Other words sound so much like the other words that they are often used interchangeably, like bemused and amused. These are the things that make English fun, watching the ways in which words shift with time and colloquialisms, and these entries delighted the grammar nerd in me.
Below you’ll find some of the most commonly misused words — and some that just diverged from the way they were meant be used. In the comments, sound off with some misused words that really bug you. What are words that no one seems to get right?
Here’s 22 to start:
Does not mean: Something cosmically shitty or funny that happened to you.
Does mean: An occurrence that is the opposite of what you’d expect.
Easily the most abused word in the English language, we partially have Alanis Morrisette (God love her) to blame for this one. The most “ironic” thing about the song “Ironic” is that its singer can’t define irony. (Or perhaps she’s so clever that such is the point?) A no smoking sign on your cigarette break? Unfortunate, not ironic. The good advice that you just didn’t take? Poor judgment, not irony.
Does not mean: To skim a text or browse over the key parts.
Does mean: To read something attentively.
If you’re a grad student, you’ve likely “perused” your reading at some point — by reading the first line of every paragraph or using one of the other infinite tricks grad students use to not have a meltdown. But if you look at the parts of the word, you can see how we’re all using it wrong. “Peruse” originally comes from “per use,” which traditionally indicates that you plan to “use up” the text with your passionate reading of it. Thus, the text is meant to be “per use” — or to be specifically used once. The other meaning came later.
Does not mean: To give one’s enthusiastic permission or agreement
Does mean: To passively agree, even if you have a negative opinion of what you’re agreeing to
As a feminist, I’m all into “consent” in the bedroom, but the word doesn’t quite mean what we all think it does. Consent, as an acquiescence, is far more neutral in value. If you consent to something, you’re not cheering it on. You’re allowing it to happen — with your permission. It’s more of a shrug. But assent indicates you really, really want it — just as much as Robin Thicke thinks you do. So, ladies, if you want to tell him that Yes Means Yes, make sure to give assent. It sounds more fun that way.