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Everyday Words That Are Misused Every Day

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?

 

Are You Done or Finished?

A child pushes a plate away at the end of the meal and announces, “I’m done.”

The well-intentioned but misinformed parent chides, “You’re finished, dear. Cakes are done. People are finished.”

Are they? Is there a rule that tells when to use done and when to use finished?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, done has been accepted and used in good company as the past tense of do dating back to the 1300s. There seems to have been some preference or practice for using have with done and be/am verbs only with finished. It’s also worth noting that finished is a more recent term, dating only to the 1700s. So the insistence on using done only in reference to things and finished to people is really a stubborn refusal to acknowledge the reality that languages are living, breathing, and changing things.

Modern dictionaries agree. Most define done first as a past form of do, which means to accomplish or complete an effort. Done, meaning “cooked adequately,” is much further down the list. But this does show that yes, people can be both done and/or finished.

However, finished implies an object (called a transitive verb) in this type of structure. Finished what?  Dinner. Finished with what? With eating.

But when using finished as an intransitive verb (not needing an object), it can also mean something like “I’m washed up,” “done for [there’s done again],” “I’m toast [okay, slang, but you get the idea].” Which gets me thinking about done and how it describes the degree something (like a cut of meat) is cooked. Can you be “well done” with your dinner?

So go right ahead and excuse yourself from the table with an “I’m done. And don’t let anyone tell you you’re finished instead of done. Unless they really mean you are washed up.

Watch Out for Superfluous Adjectives

A little goes a long way when it comes to adjectives. And you can have too much of a good thing sometimes (even—dare I say it? —chocolate).

While adjectives help your readers get a clearer picture of the person or thing you want them to see, not every adjective is essential. Eliminating one may improve a sentence.

Here’s an example:

  • The expedition climbed the high mountain.

No need for that adjective in front of mountain; we know mountains are high.

  • Three-year-old Davis cheered for the brave superhero.

Bravery is one of the characteristics that makes a superhero a superhero. Strong nouns don’t need the assistance of an adjective. Continue Reading…