People say don’t judge a book by its cover, yet we can’t help but do it to words. Sure, context clues are a helpful thing, but nothing beats checking your dictionary before assuming what a word really means. Here are only a few words that probably don’t mean what you think they mean.
What we think it means: Skim, or browse You’re probably surprised to see this word, considering how many times you’ve used it and how sure you are that you’ve been using it correctly. The thing is, many people misuse peruse because of the context we use it in, such as in emails. When you say that you’re going to peruse something, you actually mean that you are studying it carefully.
How to use it: You should peruse important documents, but I don’t think it’s necessary to peruse old, outdated ones.
What we think it means: Destroy, or ruin Decimate is a word we like to use when we want to sound dramatic, but once you find out that the word means “remove a tenth,” you’ll only feel silly. Why a tenth? Well, what other word does decimate sound like? That’s right, decimal.
How to use it: Cut a pie into ten pieces, and decimate it by taking a slice.
What we think it means: Not famous Well, the prefix in- does mean “not,” so it is actually confusing. A person who is infamous is well-known for all the wrong reasons. It could be because of bad rumors, or a bad rep. You could say that someone infamous would also be notorious.
How to use it: I bet you can name a lot of infamous YouTube celebrities.
What we think it means: Refuse, disagree Before you go throwing this word around, make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into. When you refute something, you don’t just disagree. You’re saying you can prove it.
How to use it: Refute someone who insists that the word means “refuse” by showing them the dictionary entry.
What we think it means: A difficult situation It’s a bit more nuanced than just that. Taking your cue from the prefix di-, a dilemma is a situation in which you can only choose one of two options. And yes, the word trilemma actually exists.
How to use it: Dorothy was in a real dilemma when she met a fork on the Yellow-Brick Road.
What we think it means: Often, frequently Again, nuance. When you say something happens regularly, it happens at a set period or within set intervals. For example, a news program occurs regularly, but breaking news may not.
How to use it: We regularly publish blog posts for your entertainment.
What we think it means: A lot of Plethora means more than just a lot of something; it means an overwhelming amount of. You could throw a party where only a few people show up and afterward you’ll find yourself with a plethora of food.
How to use it: We misuse a plethora of words in the English language.
What we think it means: An electric shock
What not a lot of people know is that electrocute is a portmanteau, a combination, of the words electrify and execute. So putting those two together means that anyone or anything that is electrocuted is immediately dead.
How to use it: Good grammar can be electrifying, but never electrocuting.
What we think it means: Haggle
The meaning of the word barter is actually closer to trade. When you’re bartering, you’re offering to pay for something not with money but with a skill, or a different item that could be of some value.
How to use it: I forgot my wallet at home, so I bartered for a coffee with my barista skills instead.
What we think it means: The title of anything, as in “This book/movie/song is entitled . . .” Nope. Entitled really means that you believe you have a special right or privilege.
How to use it: A diva may act entitled, but her new record is titled.
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