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16 Ways You're Probably Butchering The English Language

Isn't it ironic?

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All examples are from Steven Pinker's The Sense of Style, The Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st Century.

1.

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What you think it means: An adjective describing something annoyingly common or typical. "I love when Jim and Pam got together, even though it was so cliché."

What it actually means: A noun meaning a trite phrase or expression. "Michael Scott's favorite movie, Varsity Blues, is filled with clichés."

It's a noun, people!

2.

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What you think it means: Enormousness, the quality of being large. "The enormity of the Titanic didn't mean it was unsinkable."

What it actually means: Extreme evil. "The enormity of Rose not making room for Jack on that raft/door thing cannot be overstated."

Enormous and enormity sure look the same, so a lot of people use them interchangeably (probably to try to sound fancy).

3.

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What you think it means: Uninterested. "I am disinterested in Taylor Swift's new song."

What it actually means: Unbiased, without a vested interest. "The only way to end Taylor Swift and Kanye West's feud is with a disinterested third party."

Uninterested is a perfectly good word that actually does mean "not having the mind or feelings engaged," so use that instead of disinterested next time.

4.

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What you think it means: Regardless, irrespective. "Irregardless, ex-boyfriends are just off limits to friends. I mean that's just like the rules of feminism."

What it actually means: Nothing. Zip. Nada. It has no definition, so it doesn't get a damn example sentence.

Irregardless isn't a word! It's completely fabricated as a malapropism, and it doesn't even linguistically make sense as synonym of regardless — the ir- prefix gives the "word" the opposite meaning of regardless. Harumph.

5.

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What you think it means: Amused, entertained. "I am bemused by Keeping Up With The Kardashians."

What it actually means: Bewildered or confused. "I am bemused by the popularity of Keeping Up With The Kardashians."

It'll bemuse people if you use this word to mean "amused."

6.

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What you think it means: Fortunate, lucky. "It was very fortuitous that we got same-day tickets to see Hamilton."

What it actually means: Coincidental, unplanned. "Sitting next to my personal Aaron Burr in the audience of Hamilton was completely fortuitous."

Again, fortuitous and fortunate kind of look like synonyms, so it's surprising to learn that they don't mean the same thing. It's merely fortuitous that they look and sound the same!

7.

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What you think it means: To stop a flow, like a bleeding cut. "I tried to staunch his bleeding, but I didn't know first aid because I skipped that day of health class."

What it actually means: Loyal, sturdy. "I am a staunch supporter of good first aid training."

If your finger is spurting blood, you definitely want to stanch the bleeding, but staunching will do nothing other that sound downright confusing.

8.

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What you think it means: Inconvenient, unfortunate. "It's meeting the man of my dreams, and then meeting his beautiful wife. And isn't it ironic, don't you think?"

What it actually means: Uncannily incongruent, seemingly designed to violate expectations. "It's forgetting your text on human memory. And isn't it ironic, don't you think?"

Just don't look to Alanis Morissette for a good example of how to use the word ironic, mmkay?

9.

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What you think it means: A limit or boundary. "When coming up with a Halloween costume, you have to work within certain parameters, like your budget."

What it actually means: A variable. "When coming up with a Halloween costume, you have to work within certain parameters, like the weather."

This is why the phrase is "secure the perimeter!" not "secure the parameter!"

10.

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What you think it means: Pleasingly simple, minimalistic. "I'm buying Ikea furniture because I like a simplistic look."

What it actually means: Naïvely or overly simple. "Her proposal that Ikea's meatballs could bring about world peace is definitely simplistic."

It's as simple as that!

11.

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What you think it means: Like torture. "Listening to a guy describe his favorite IPA while watching Fight Club is torturous."

What it actually means: Twisting. "His logic for why Fight Club is best enjoyed with a cold Double Dry-Hopped Congress Street was as torturous as the Pacific Coast Highway."

Both come from the Latin word for twist (as do "torque" and "torsion") because twisting limbs was a common form of torture.

12.

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What you think it means: Oral, spoken. "We didn't write it down or anything, but my roommate and I made a verbal contract that we'd switch off doing the dishes."

What it actually means: Relating to or consisting of words; in linguistic form. "Verbal contracts are a lot more binding than symbolic ones."

TBH the "oral, spoken" meaning is commonly accepted at this point, but if you're a ~purist~, you wouldn't dream of using it.

13.

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What you think it means: Reluctant. "He was reticent to dance along to 'Cabinet Battle #1' from Hamilton in front of his crush."

What it actually means: Shy, restrained. "Thomas Jefferson, always hesitant with the President, reticent."

Don't mix these two up. Just don't do it.

14.

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What you think it means: Opposed to or disinclined toward something. "I am adverse to using bad grammar."

What it actually means: Hostile, acting against or in a contrary direction. "I have an adverse reaction to anyone who mixes up your and you're."

Removing a letter from adverse turns it into "averse," which does in fact mean "opposed to." There may be some adverse effects of getting this one wrong.

15.

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What you think it means: To focus in on, converge upon. "After being on Tinder for a year, I've finally honed in on the kind of person I want to be with."

What it actually means: To sharpen. "I've really honed my dating skills after being on Tinder for a year."

"Hone" isn't the same as "home," as in "to home in on a solution," even though it's often (mistakenly) used that way.

16.

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What you think it means: Figuratively. "I literally can not."

What it actually means: In actual fact. "My editor literally changed every misuse of 'literally' in this post."

But you probably already knew this one.

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