Even though you've read every book imaginable, and expertly drop fancy vocab into casual conversation, it's still likely you're using a few words and phrases incorrectly. That's because the English language is difficult, and chock full of strange idioms, bizarre spellings, and words that magically change meaning with repeated misuse.
Take the word "ridiculous," for example. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as "arousing or deserving ridicule," but it has also taken on a secondary meaning of "extremely silly, or unreasonable." I remember an English professor of mine positively hating on the misuse. ("No, it is not 'ridiculous' that someone cut in front of you in line.") And yet nowadays, it's perfectly acceptable to call an annoying or shocking or strange situation "completely ridiculous."
This is true for so many words and phrases. As another example, consider how Oxford Dictionaries just added the likes of "bae" and "selfie." These weren't words a few years ago, but now they are officially in the dictionary. (Oh language, you are so fun.) Want to know else has changed? Or what you might have had wrong all along? Then read on for a few examples of words and phrases that may require a second look.
Many of us pepper the word "literally" into our daily speech. We wake up and literally cannot get out of bed. Once at work, we literally have to answer a million emails. And before lunch? Well, you best believe we're literally starving. According to news editor Samantha Rollins on TheWeek.com, the word is used for emphasis, though the true definition is "in a strict, or literal sense."
2. I Could Care Less
When you get mad, or feel exasperated, it's common to throw up your hands and say "I could care less." And yet, as copywriter Shearly Reyes tells me, that doesn't actually make any sense. The actual phrase is "I couldn't care less," because you could not care less. (Meaning, you're totally over it.)
People love to hate on this word and all the confusion it causes. And I have to say I agree. Because it uses two negatives "ir" and "less" it turns into just "regard," the proper form of "regardless," Reyes tells me. See? Makes zero sense. And yet we say it so often it can even be found in a few dictionaries.
When something strange happens (like, your childhood friend shows up for the exact same job interview) you might say it's "ironic." And yet, the word doesn't actually mean something is coincidental. "Verbal irony is when a person says one thing but clearly means another," said author Dr. Travis Bradberry, on HuffingtonPost.com. "Situational irony is when a result is the opposite of what was expected." See the difference?
If you eat too many burritos, you might feel "nauseous" and swear off Mexican food forever. (That is, until you feel better and then instantly crave more burritos. Not only me, right?) While pretty much everyone says they're "nauseous," the correct world is actually "nauseated." As Bradberry said, "Nauseous means causing nausea; nauseated means experiencing nausea." Hmm, TIL.
After spending the day doing the same thing over, and over, and over again, you might say things are getting a little "redundant." And yet, it doesn't exactly mean what you might think. "Redundant is often used to mean 'duplicate' or 'repetitive,' when it means 'unneeded' and 'can be removed,'" says content writer Meryl K. Evans, in an email to Bustle. For repetitive tasks, try using "monotonous" instead.
7. Another Thing Coming
When arguing with someone, you might tell them they've got "another thing coming." But, believe it or not, the correct phrase is "another think coming." As author Nico Lang said on ThoughtCatalog.com, "The complete phrase goes 'If that’s what you think, you’ve got another think coming.'" I know, it sounds so wrong. And yet it's actually right.
8. For All Intensive Purposes
If you say this one incorrectly, it's probably just because you heard it wrong. But the correct wording here is "for all intents and purposes." As Shundalyn Allen noted on the blog Grammarly.com, the phrase means "for all functional purposes."
When something horrible happens, you might hear people call it a "travesty." Of course they're using it as another word for "tragedy," but that isn't correct. "A 'travesty' is actually a mockery or parody," said professional blogger Charnita Fance, on Lifehack.org. Whoops. That's not right at all.
I so wish this was a word, because I want to use it all the time. (It sounds so perfect!) But sadly, "conversate" does not mean "to have a conversation." In fact, it's not even a real word, according to Fance. (And according to my spellchecker, which is not too pleased right now.)
11. Fall By The Waste Side
This is another one we can chalk up to verbal misunderstandings, because it sure does look strange written down. And yet, many of us still accidentally say "fall by the waste side" when we really mean "fall by the wayside." As Lang explained, "To 'fall by the wayside' means that you aren’t keeping up with a group, like in jogging." Falling by the "waste" side would be a whole different (way dirtier) story.
Do any of these words or phrases ring a bell? If so, you're in good company. This pesky language of ours is tricky, after all.
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