A lot of the words we use have changed meaning over time, differing from their common or intended use. Some words sound so much like other words, they are often used interchangeably, like bemused and amused.
Here’s a list of some everyday words that are often misused. See if you are guilty of misunderstanding the true meaning and usage of these words. If you are, don’t feel bad. You’re not alone.
- Ironic: It doesn’t mean something funny or bad that’s happened to you. It means the occurrence of something opposite to what you expect (although irony has a number of various meanings and applications). An example of an ironic situation: a domestic violence prosecutor being been charged with domestic violence.
- Irregardless: It’s not a word, sorry. Use regardless. Regardless of what anyone tells you.
- Peruse: It does not mean to skim or browse over a bit of writing. It means to read something attentively (the opposite). Peruse originally comes from “per use,” which traditionally indicates that you plan to “use up” the text with your passionate reading of it.
- Consent: It does not mean to give one’s permission or agreement. It means to passively agree, even if you have a negative opinion of what you’re agreeing to. If you consent to something, you’re not cheering it on. You’re allowing it to happen, with your permission.
- Compelled: It does not mean to voluntarily do something, usually out of a moral or internal impulse. It means to be forced, obligated, or pressured into doing something—the exact opposite of what you think, and there’s an easy way to see how. If you have to give “compulsory service” in the military, that means you don’t have a choice. Compelled comes from “compulsory,” so if you’re “compelled” to give a truthful eye-witness testimony during a court case, that means you gotta do it.
- Instant: It does not mean very quickly, with lightning speed. Rather, it means a specific point in time. Although we live in an “instant” world and drink “instant” coffee, the popular use of instant commonly diverges from its intended meaning. Instant originally meant a very tiny fraction of time, a moment so minute it was practically infinitesimal. However, the idea of smallness here was carried over to its more common meaning: the small amount of time by which something is done or prepared. Most dictionaries now recognize both uses.
I suppose it’s a bit ironic for an editor to encourage the proper use of words when she might feel compelled instantly to consent to her readers to peruse her blog posts on grammar—irregardless of the fatuosity of the task. (No, fatuosity isn’t a real word either.) Hmm . . . did I just say what I think I said?