Thursday, September 25, 2014

Erik Gets Pretentious: Ten Words People Really Need To Stop Using Incorrectly

Anybody who knows me knows that I can get rather...obnoxious, we'll say, about how people use certain words.  For instance, I tend to always grit my teeth when I hear people say "I'm going to lay down," when they clearly mean "lie down."

Though I guess they could be planning on spreading feathers everywhere.
It drives me nuts that "flammable" and "inflammable" mean the same thing, that nobody remembers the correct usage of "whom," and that the semicolon appears to have suffered a painful death in today's writings.

So, here I'm going to share ten examples of words I really, really wish people would use as they're defined, not how the masses tend to "think" they should be used.

10)  Sensuous vs Sensual

Both of these words mean that something is "pleasing to the senses," but they tend to mean it in different ways.

"Sensuous" tends to rely more on non-physical senses (read: senses that aren't "touch").  A statue might have sensuous curves, a plate of food or perfume might have a sensuous scent, and a violin player's music might be sensuous.

"Sensual" tends to mean things are more pleasurable in a physical sense (and yes, often means in a sexual manner).  A breath on the back of your neck, a kiss, a massage, or any other number of actions can be "sensual," but they rely on the sense of touch (most of the time) and are more restricted to those physical pleasures and appetites.  I suppose you could argue that a glutton would find eating to be "sensual," but that's going a bit deeper than I'm prepared to go right now.

9)  Altogether vs All Together

This one isn't quite so bad, since I can see how people might get it mixed up.  Both of these are adverbs, but while "all together" means things being done as a group, "altogether" means the totality.  Try these examples:

"Altogether, the United States is almost 4 million square miles."

"The movie critics of America stood all together to say that Highlander 2 was a terrible movie."

A simple way to know if you should use "all together" or "altogether" is that any sentence that can use "all together" can also use the words split up.  As in:

"All the movie critics of America stood together to say that Highlander 2 was a terrible movie."

Footnote: "Altogether" is also a noun that means "a state of nudity."  When I opened the bedroom door, I saw her standing in the altogether.  She then brained me with a table lamp.

8)  Convince vs. Persuade

At its root, you "persuade" someone to act, but you "convince" them of something.  There's some gray area here, so I'll try to break it down.  Let's say you're a lawyer defending someone of hitting a lamp post in their red sports car, and you have all sorts of facts and evidence that shows your client a) doesn't own a red sports car, b) never drives because they ride their bike everywhere, and c) were in Bora Bora at the time, and the accident took place in Butte, Montana.

In this instance, you're not persuading anybody that your client is innocent, you're convincing them with the facts involved.  You can "convince" someone not to eat a quadruple-patty burger because it's unhealthy.  You can "convince" someone that buying stock in asbestos companies won't help their financial health.  You can "convince" your child that walking over to pet the dog with foam around its mouth is a very bad idea.  However, you can't "convince" someone to go out to dinner because "you really want to."  You can, however, "persuade" them to.  You can "persuade" the person in the airline seat next to you to let you have the armrest, you can "persuade" someone to loan you their copy of season two of Animaniacs, and you can "persuade" someone to go skydiving with you.

Just try to remember it this way, if you're trying to get them to take action, it's probably persuasion, if you're trying to change how they think of something, it's convincing.

7)  Enervate vs. Energize

These don't mean the same thing.  In fact, they really couldn't be any more of opposites without being spelled using letter placement on an alphabet in reverse (energize vs. vmviezgv?).  To energize something is to invigorate it or excite it.   However, to "enervate" something is "to weaken or destroy the strength or vitality of."  In fact, the term gets used in medicine to mean "to remove a nerve or part of a nerve."

If someone tells you they feel "enervated" ask them if they need a glass of milk and a nap.

6)  Nonplussed

Everybody knows this one.  Something startling happens, but the guy they were hoping to startle is calm, cool, and collected.  Stress doesn't get to him.  Pressure is for other people.  He's nonplussed.

If there was ever a face that wasn't "plussed," this was it.

But...that's the opposite of what the word means.  Per the dictionary, nonplussed means "surprised and confused so much that they are unsure how to react."  So if someone tells you that they were nonplussed when their car battery exploded or when the fight broke out, tell them that you hope they'll be ready the next time it happens.

5)  Complement vs. Compliment

A complement is a noun, meaning "something that completes, or makes whole.  It can also be a verb, meaning "to act as a complement."  The second one is rather terrible, but they both essentially mean the same thing in verb or noun form.  "The autographed baseball perfectly complemented the man's Derek Jeter fan shrine."  "His new 59-inch television was the perfect complement to his entertainment center."

Compliment, on the other hand, is a noun when it's an expression of praise or a verb when it's an action involving an expression of praise.  They both sound the same when spoken aloud, but while someone can compliment your complement, finding a complement to accompany your compliment usually involves a lot more effort.  Unless you just go for a thumbs-up, but that's not really genuine.

4)  Impeach

Here's a fun tidbit:  "impeach" doesn't mean to take someone out of office.  It means "to charge (a public official) with improper conduct before a proper tribunal."  A president can be impeached and remain in office.  As can a senator, a judge, or any other person holding public office.  Most might choose not to continue remaining in power simply because of the scandal and desire to remove themselves from the public eye.

It also doesn't mean to be found guilty.  Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton were both actually impeached (that is, they faced a tribunal), but both were found innocent.  Even if they were found guilty, they'd have to be sentenced and then an entirely new process needs to begin to get them out of office, but the impeachment alone won't do it.  

3)  Factoid

We all know what a factoid is, right?  We don't need to go into much detail?  A factoid is a small fact, something of interest without requiring a lot of further explanation.


The ending -oid tends to represent "resembling, or having the appearance to while not actually being."  Think of other words that have that ending:  humanoid, steroid, planetoid.  They're all things that resemble the root word, but aren't actually that root.  A planetoid is not a planet.  A humanoid is not a human.  A steroid is not, steroi?  Oh, wait, sterol.  Okay, there we go.

So, as a matter of fact (not a matter of factoid), a factoid is not a fact.  A "factoid" was originally something that people repeated often enough that others would assume it was true, like an urban legend.  So, I guess you could say that the definition of factoid as being a fact is, in itself, a factoid.

2)  Unique

Have you ever heard someone told you that something was a "more unique" experience than something else?  Have they ever told you, when you asked where they bought something, told you about this place that sells all sorts of "unique" items?  Sigh at the misuse of a word that means something a lot better than how we use it.

Unique really means "being the only one of its kind."  Nobody is "more unique" than you, because you are the only you there is.  A unique object is the only one of that object.  Now, there are some secondary definitions, but again, we don't use the word to represent just how special something is.  Unique can also mean "without an equal or equivalent," so someone could say that a stretch of really nice weather was "unique," but they better hope you can't point out another time where there was even better weather.  A great deal on a car can be "unique" but you really can't ever expect to get that deal again.  If the same sale happens next weekend, it's not unique.

The last definition of unique is "characteristic of a particular category, condition, or locality."  Weather patterns might be "unique" to a particular region; they might not only happen once, but you won't find them happening anywhere else.  A particular trait might be specific to a certain kind of animal, so while you will find more than one of that animal, you won't find that trait anywhere else.

Don't let people get away with using it in the place of "rare," "uncommon," or "unlikely."  The word deserves better.

Now, I had a lot of options for my number one pick.  I could do lie vs lay, I could discuss the butchering of the term "literally" in society, or I could tackle the madness that lies in explaining "effect" and "affect."

But I'll save those for another time.  For now, I'm going to cover something that I, myself, have been known to be guilty of.

1)  Consul vs Council vs Counsel


Okay, let's break it down word by word.

A "consul" is someone appointed by a government to reside in a foreign country and represent that country's interests.  A consul, then, would reside at a "consulate."  It's really that simple.

"Councils" are nouns, and they mean "a group of appointed people gathered together to consult, deliberate, and discuss matters."  It can also mean the discussion that takes place within such a body of people, which I think is a rather ridiculous thing to add to the word since we already have "discussion," "debate," and "deliberation" in the English language.

"Counsel" is a noun meaning "the act of exchanging opinions and ideas."  It's also a verb meaning, well, "to give counsel to."  In either sense, it's either advice or the giving someone advice in many cases.  However, it can also mean someone mean a person whose purpose is to provide counsel.  A lawyer, a counselor (see? the word's even in there!), an advocate, or a sponsor might all be considered "counsels."  A counsel can counsel you, so heed their counsel.

You can also receive counsel from a council or a consul, but it's extremely unlikely to receive a council from your counsel.  A council might be made up of consuls or counsels, though, but you probably wouldn't expect them to counsel each other.

"Oh, this isn't because of the last definition round, this is because I'm trying to figure out how this article is "ten words people really need to stop using incorrectly" when it covers seventeen words.  Eighteen, if you don't count "all" and "together" as one word."

Okay!  On that note, I think we've covered it for now!  I'll probably do a few more of these in the future (someone needs to advocate the elimination of "irregardless" from our language), but I'll try to keep them to these small lists unless the matter is going to require a lengthy article.

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