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25 Common Words That You’ve Got Wrong

25 Common Words That You’ve Got Wrong

Everybody talks a lot. It’s one of the most frequent things we as human beings do. We need it to communicate. People do it for entertainment. Just because we all do it all the time doesn’t mean we have perfected the craft. Here are a bunch of common words everyone uses but most use incorrectly.

1. Irony

What you think it means: Something that is funny.
What it really means: Contrary to what you are expecting.

This is a famous one because so many people get this wrong so often. It’s also kind of hard to explain, so we’ll use an example. The Titanic was boasted about as being 100% unsinkable and then in 1912 it was sunk anyway. That is what is called cosmic irony. When a starving vegetarian eats a pepperoni pizza, that is what is called situational irony. There are other kinds too, such as dramatic irony and Socratic irony. Believe it or not, sarcasm is actually irony. When you say something sarcastically, your tone and your words mean two opposite things. That is ironic. Irony can be funny but not everything funny is irony.

2. Travesty

What you think it means: A tragedy or something unfortunate.
What it really means: A mockery or parody.

This is another one that people have wrong fairly frequently. You’ve heard people call 9/11 a travesty. Truth be told 9/11 was a tragedy. A travesty is actually a mockery or a parody. One might say that a Weird Al Yankovic album is a travesty. With how often this word is associated with tragedy, we wouldn’t be shocked if that definition were eventually added as an acceptable meaning. Until then, it doesn’t mean anything bad happened.

3. Ultimate

What you think it means: The one, the only. The best.
What it really means: The last item of a list.

Some people do actually use this one properly. You may see someone list off a bunch of things and hear them say, “Okay, at the store we need eggs, milk, juice, and ultimately, butter.” That is actually the proper use of ultimate. There is no other context or added context. It simply means the last one.

4. Conversate

What you think it means: To have a conversation.
What it really means: Nothing.

Conversate actually doesn’t exist and I’ll prove it to you. Go into a program that underlines words with red if they’re spelled wrong. Now type out conversate. Did you see the red line? Conversate was meant to be a mixture of conversation and converse and be used as a verb. However, converse is a verb and there really isn’t a need for a second verb to describe the same action.

5. Peruse

What you think it means: To skim or browse.
What it really means: To observe in depth.

When you peruse something, you are actually taking a very close look at it. When you’re at a record store (remember those?) and you’re just running through a stack of records, you are just browsing. If you pick up a record and look at the artist, track list, and additional information on the back, then your are perusing.

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6. Bemused

What you think it means: Amused.
What it really means: Confused.

This is one of the many words on this list that will make you strongly dislike the English language. Despite looking all but identical to the word amused, bemused doesn’t even come close to meaning the same thing. If you are bemused then you are actually confused.

7. Compelled

What you think it means: To do something voluntarily by choice.
What it really means: To be forced or obligated to doing something.

This is one that people get wrong and it’s rather understandable. The real definition is very close to the definition people generally use. The difference is the motivation. When people say compelled, they think the person wants to perform the action. In fact, they are forced to do it regardless of their personal feelings. Here’s an example. When you’re in court, you are compelled to give honest testimony. You may not want to, but it doesn’t matter because you have to.

8. Nauseous

What you think it means: To feel ill.
What it really means: To cause feelings of illness.

This is another understandable mishap that a lot of people make. If you actually feel sick then you are nauseated. The object that made you feel ill is nauseous. Here’s how this works. If you’re at an amusement park and you’re sitting next to a full trash can, the fumes from the trash may make you feel ill. That means the fumes from the trash can are nauseous because they are making you feel nauseated.

9. Redundant

What you think it means: Repetitive.
What it really means: Unnecessarily excessive.

This one is tough because you can use it wrong but unintentionally use it right. When you repeat something a bunch of times, it can become redundant, but redundant expands far beyond just repeating things over and over. A popular thing companies are doing now is firing people but instead of calling it “getting fired,” they call it “eliminating redundancies.” The premise being that the employee they’re firing is unnecessary and excessive and they are thus eliminating them. In pretty much any scenario where there is simply too much of something, it is redundant.

10. Enormity

What you think it means: Huge, enormous.
What it really means: Profoundly immoral or evil.

Don’t beat yourself up over this one because no one knows this one off the top of their head. Enormity sounds like enormous and as with many of our other examples, here we expect words that sound alike to have similar meanings. Enormity simply means really evil. An example of how to use it is the following: “The enormity of the crimes committed by the Nazis in World War II.” It doesn’t mean the enormous crimes, it means the heinous crimes.

11. Terrific

What you think it means: Fantastic, good.
What it really means: Horrific, to inspire fear.

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This is another one that we expect will be changed in the dictionary eventually because barely anyone uses the real meaning anymore. When people say they feel terrific, they mean to say they feel fantastic. An example of something terrific is King Kong. You see a giant monster and it inspires fear. We’re going to loop awesome in with this one too. Awesome simply means to inspire awe and people often use it to describe something really good.

12. Effect

What you may think it means: To cause something to change.
What it really means: An event that causes a change.

A lot of people staunchly defend the wrong definition of this and it’s understandable. When action A causes a change in object B, action A affected object B and object B has been affected. Effect is an event that causes a change. In our prior example, action A is, in and of itself, an effect because it affects things. It’s admittedly confusing to explain but easy to remember. If it’s a noun, it’s an effect. If it’s a verb, it’s an affect.

13. Disinterested

What you think it means: Bored.
What it really means: Neutral.

A good way to remember this one is that there is a word that means bored and it’s uninterested. If you’re uninterested, you’re bored. Being disinterested is the long-form equivalent of stating that you don’t care about something.

14. Irregardless

What you think it means: Without regard.
What it really means: Nothing.

Like conversate above, irregardless isn’t actually a word. When people say irregardless, they actually mean to say regardless. Regardless means without regard. Irregardless has been used so often that it actually is in the dictionary now and that’s kind of sad. Even though it is technically there, there are a large number of people who don’t consider it a word. You can save yourself a couple of keystrokes and a tongue lashing by just using regardless.

15. Chronic

What you think it means: Severe.
What it really means: Over the course of a long time.

This is definitely one that people ought to know better. When you have severe pain, it is just severe pain. If you have chronic pain, you have been in pain for a long, long time. Chronic conditions and diseases are called chronic because they won’t go away and not because they’re overly severe.

16. i.e.

What you think it means: For example.
What it really means: In other words.

This is one among a number of shortened words that confuse people. Here’s a quick guide on how to use them. Et cetera is etc., example is ex. or e.g., and in other words is i.e. When you use i.e. you’re essentially putting it there to let people know that you’re going to be stating the same information in different words. Here’s how it really works. It’s June and I moved into my new apartment in April, i.e., two months ago.

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17. Decimate

What you think it means: To destroy or annihilate
What it really means: To destroy ten percent.

This one is really goofy and one day this won’t be true. For the time being, decimate actually means removing only ten percent of something. If you know a little bit about words it’s not difficult to figure out. The prefix “dec” means ten. However, the traditional definition of this word is antiquated and it’ll probably be changed eventually. Until then, it’s technically correct to use a word like exterminate or annihilate instead.

18. Panacea

What you think it means: A cure.
What it really means: A cure for a lot of things.

This one is easy to confuse because the explanation is virtually the same even if the definitions are vastly different. A panacea is something that cures a lot of things all at once. For instance, penicillin is a panacea. It cures a bunch of diseases. The flu vaccine is not a panacea because it only protects against the flu.

19. Fortuitous

What you think it means: Lucky.
What it really means: By chance.

There is a difference between luck and chance. Unfortunately, people use the two interchangeably, so much so that it’s difficult to explain the differences anymore. Lucky is an event that happens by chance that can be described as fortunate. Winning the lottery is lucky. Fortuitous means simply by chance. For instance if you drop your basketball and it bounces into the road and gets hit by a car, that’s a fortuitous instance. It’s neutral, so it can be good or bad things that happen by chance.

20. Plethora

What you think it means: A lot of something.
What it really means: More than is needed.

This is one I use incorrectly all the time. In fact, I almost used it a couple of times in this very article. Plethora simply means that there is more of something than is needed. For instance, you may think that 5,000 people is a plethora of people. However, when you put them into a hockey arena that seats 13,000 people, it’s actually less than half capacity and therefore not a plethora. If you had 13,500 people in that same arena, that would be a plethora of people.

21. Total

Total means exactly what you think it means but total is used unnecessarily on a frequent basis. When there is a total of 50 people who do something, the total is 50 whether or not you use the word “total.” Or you might hear someone say that they were totally surprised. Surprise is not a conditional emotion. You were either surprised or not. The use of total didn’t add anything of value to the sentence. In most cases, the definition is correct but using the word is repetitive when put in context with the rest of the sentence.

22. Literally

common words literally

    What you think it means:

    Figuratively.
    What it really means: Actually.

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    This is something that has come about relatively recently and my generation may have helped propagate this one. Literally means actually. When something is literally true, it is actually true. If I haven’t seen my friend in literally five years then I actually haven’t seen them in five years. People use literally along with hyperbole to show an emotion: “I haven’t had Chinese food in literally a million years.” This is meant to denote that the person hasn’t had Chinese food in a while. The word those people actually want is figuratively. They figuratively haven’t had Chinese food in a million years. They probably literally hadn’t had it in a few days or weeks.

    23. Can

    What you think it means: What is permissible.
    What it really means: What is possible.

    This is one you have to nip in the bud in childhood because it’s much harder to correct in adulthood. When you can do something, you have capacity within you to perform that action regardless of whether or not you actually do it. I can bang my head into my desk but I absolutely will not do it. When people use can incorrectly it is because they mean to use the word “may.” When you ask someone if they can open the door, you did not ask them to open the door. You asked them if they were capable of opening the door. If you wish for them to perform the task, you should ask if they will open the door. When you ask if you can have something, you’re not asking someone to give it to you. You’re asking if you have the capacity to own it. If you need something, ask if you may have it.

    24. Defective

    What you think it means: That something is broken or missing pieces.
    What it really means: Simply that it’s broken.

    You’ll see this one a lot in Amazon reviews. People will say that their unit came defective because it was missing a screw or pieces in the box. That’s actually incorrect. What they mean to say is that their product is deficient. It’s missing pieces, it is not actually broken. The machine may work perfectly fine once the missing pieces have been re-added, which means that it actually isn’t defective at all.

    25. Obsolete

    What you think it means: Old, out of date.
    What it really means: Not produced, used, or needed.

    You’ll see this one in the tech industry a lot. People in tech article comments will comment that a phone is obsolete when they really mean that it’s out of date. The literal definition of obsolete is an item that it isn’t produced, needed, or used anymore. An example of this is is the steam engine. It’s largely inefficient compared to today’s combustion engine and even more inefficient than the emerging electric engines. Thus, steam engines are not used, produced, or needed anymore. Yes, they are also old and out of date, but obsolete is kind of the next step after old and out of date.

    Wrap up

    The English language is a finicky one but it’s also ever changing. Words are updated and definitions change. New words are added every year and some are retired. Very few people will ever master the entire language and the rest of us will just have to do the best we can!

    Featured photo credit: GTM Mobile Reviews via gtmmobilesreviews.com

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    Joseph Hindy

    A writer, editor, and YouTuber who likes to share about technology and lifestyle tips.

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    Last Updated on April 6, 2020

    How To Be Successful In Life: 13 Life-Changing Tips

    How To Be Successful In Life: 13 Life-Changing Tips

    What is success to you? How to be successful in life?

    To some, when they think of success, they imagine wealth; others want power; some just want to make a positive impact on the world.

    All of these are perfectly valid, indeed success is a concept that means different things to different people. Though no matter what success is to you, it almost certainly isn’t something will come easily.

    There are countless guides and books to being successful, however, as success is personal and unique to each individual. The advice contained in these books can often not be relevant. Therefore following the advice of a single individual can often be unhelpful.

    With this in mind, considering the advice of a great many people, people whose ideas of success were different both to each other, and quite possibly, to you can be a good alternative.

    What follows is a list of 13 of the best pieces of advice from some of the most successful people who have ever lived. If you want to learn how to be successful, these tips are essential:

    1. Think Big

      From Michelangelo Buonarroti, Great Renaissance Artist:

      “The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.”

      There are few artists as influential as Michaelangelo. Today centuries after his death, his work still inspires and connects to people. His work is world famous, just think of his statue of David, or the Mural in the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican.

      Imagine then, if he decided not to work as an artist.

      Being a successful artist has always been extremely difficult, imagine if he decided to give up this ambition in favour of something easier?

      Oftentimes, people often decided to put their dreams aside for something more “realistic”. To give up their dream for something easier. This quote teaches us the danger of such a point of view.
      Instead be ambitious.

      2. Find What You Love to Do and Do It

        From Oprah Winfrey, Media Mogul:

        “You know you are on the road to success if you would do your job and not be paid for it.”

        This is a good quote to remember and think about when you’re at work.

        Imagine being as successful as possible in your current job. Ultimately you’ll probably find yourself working extremely hard and this it will take up much of your time.

        If it’s a job you hate, then being successful at it might only mean filling your life with something you hate to do. What’s the sense in this?

        Instead, why not focus on doing something you love? When you’ve found what you’re passionate about, you get the motivation to keep you moving. Success at this means the fulfilment of your dreams.

        Not sure what your passion is yet? You should learn about this Motivation Engine first.

        Even if you’re not successful, you still filled your time with something you love to do. Many successful musicians spent years of their lives doing unpaid performances, the only reason they kept playing was because they loved to perform.

        3. Learn How to Balance Life

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          From Phil Knight, CEO of Nike Inc.:

          “There is an immutable conflict at work in life and in business, a constant battle between peace and chaos. Neither can be mastered, but both can be influenced. How you go about that is the key to success.”

          All too often, people think that to be successful, they need to make the object of their success their life.

          If a person thinks their job will lead them to success, then they may spend countless hours per day, and well into the evening working hard.

          However this comes at the cost of rest, your health and having an enjoyable life. Ultimately they may burn out and cease to be successful at their job anyway.

          If success comes from having a strong social life and a good group of friends, their job may suffer; meaning that they may lose their job, and then be unable to afford going out with friends.

          In these ways, success, as Phil Knight says above, is helped by balance. Think of it as a balance between rest and work, or work and play.

          To achieve that balance, this Ultimate Guide to Prioritizing Your Work And Life can help you.

          4. Do Not Be Afraid of Failure

            From Henry Ford, Founder of Ford Motors:

            “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”

            There is a story, it’s unconfirmed whether it actually happened, yet the message within is none the less true:

            Thomas Edison inventing the lightbulb was the result of several hundred failed attempts. In an interview, he was asked “How do you feel after all of your failed attempts?”

            His response was great, “I didn’t fail, I learned hundreds of ways not to invent the lightbulb”

            He saw each “failure” as a lesson. From that lesson he learned what won’t work, and also might work instead.

            Each failed attempt, each rejection, were key steps on his path to success. It is easy to feel like you should give up after a failure. But perhaps in that failure is a lesson.

            Pay attention to your failures, study them. Perhaps then you’ll learn how to succeed.

            If you find it difficult to fight your fear of failure, here’s a guide for you: Why You Have the Fear of Failure (And How to Conquer It Step-By-Step)

            5. Have an Unwavering Resolution to Succeed

              From Colonel Sanders, Founder of KFC:

              “I made a resolve then that I was going to amount to something if I could. And no hours, nor amount of labor, nor amount of money would deter me from giving the best that there was in me. And I have done that ever since, and I win by it. I know.”

              This, in many ways relates to the above quote about learning from your failures.

              It’s the easiest thing in the world to give up from a failure. The only way to push on is if you have the true burning desire to succeed, to not be moved or dissuaded from your goals.

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              If you are not truly dedicated towards success, then each failure will hurt more, each set back will slow you down.

              Success is hard; without the unwavering desire to succeed, this difficulty may seem insurmountable. With the desire, it is merely an obstacle to go through.

              6. Be a Person of Action

                From Leonardo da Vinci, Renaissance Genius:

                “It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.”

                Though it was said hundreds of years ago, it works just as much today as it ever had. It applies to literally any successful person.

                Think about it, picture someone like William Shakespeare:

                When we think of the time he lived in, we think of the time in a way shaped by him. When we think of Renaissance era Italy, we think of Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci. Or think about the present day, Bill Gates or Steve Jobs. Our current way of life would simply be incomparably different if they didn’t accomplish what they did.

                You’re probably reading this article on a device by a company that they either founded or companies influenced by them.

                All these figures were proactive, they saw ways to do things differently and did them. If they let the world shape them, then they’d simply fit into the background. Instead they shaped the world.

                Applying this to you?

                Don’t be afraid of going outside the norm. If you can think of a better way to do something, do it that way. If you fail, try again.

                7. Cultivate Positive Relationships

                  From Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of America: “

                  The most important single ingredient in the formula of success is knowing how to get along with people.”

                  The best leaders and some of the most influential people (and Theodore Roosevelt is one of the best leaders and one of the most influential people to have lived) were not those who caused commotions, who fought with people or disregarded people; but were people who were friendly to those around them.

                  People liked them. They wanted them to do well.

                  This is key to good leadership.

                  It’s logical. If someone likes you, they want to help you; if you give them a suggestion, they’ll gladly follow through with it.

                  But if someone doesn’t like you, they may either refuse to help or actively get in your way.

                  What’s more, it’s always a good idea to cultivate good relationships. You can never tell who will prove to become someone who’ll be able to help you in a big way, or even be a good and supportive friend.

                  As such, help people and they may help you; and be good to people, and they my be good to you.

                  8. Don’t Be Afraid of Introducing New Ideas

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                    From Mark Twain, Famed Author:

                    “A person with a new idea is a crank until the idea succeeds.”

                    It is an unfortunate truth that those with the boldest ideas are often disregarded.

                    Most of us are taught from an early age to think and do things similarly to everyone else. This can be great to fill an existing role. But to truly do things differently (and all successful people did things differently), you need to think differently.

                    If you have a new idea, don’t throw it away because it’s new and different; instead, celebrate it. Your strange new idea might one day be the one that leads you to success.

                    9. Believe in Your Capacity to Succeed

                      From Walter Disney, Founder of Walt Disney Company:

                      “If you can dream it, you can do it.”

                      Success has to be something you can imagine yourself achieving.

                      It is possible that you will come across those who doubt you and your ability to succeed. You must not become one of these people because the moment you cease believing and dreaming is the moment these dreams fall away.

                      Keep dreaming!

                      10. Always Maintain a Positive Mental Attitude

                        From Thomas Jefferson, 3rd President of America:

                        “Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude.”

                        Like the above quote says, you need to trust in your ability to succeed. This is the only way to cultivate the right mindset.

                        Replace negative thoughts with the positive ones. You need to approach problems, not as obstacles stopping you, but merely tasks that need to be completed for you to keep going.

                        If you stay positive and think like this, setbacks won’t affect you so much, people’s doubts won’t impact you and even the biggest obstacles will seem like minor problems.

                        However with the wrong mindset of doubt, you’ll be much easier to stop.

                        11. Don’t Let Discouragement Stop You from Pressing On

                          From Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of America:

                          “Let no feeling of discouragement prey upon you, and in the end you are sure to succeed.”

                          It is an unfortunate fact of human nature — all of us in some way, doubt ourselves. This can be made far worse if others doubt us too.

                          When surrounded by doubts, giving up can actually seem like a good idea.

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                          Don’t pay attention to the doubts. If you are discouraged, ignore it.

                          If this discouragement moves into your mind and you begin to doubt yourself. It is important to ignore this too.

                          This is How Self Doubt Keeps You Stuck and How to Overcome It

                          12. Be Willing to Work Hard

                            From JC Penny, Founder of JC Penney Inc.:

                            “Unless you are willing to drench yourself in your work beyond the capacity of the average man, you are just not cut out for positions at the top.”

                            You might have heard the quote that “success is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration” or you may have heard about the 10,000 hours idea.

                            Whichever way you frame it, they say one thing:

                            True success comes from work.

                            You’ll never become successful if you don’t work towards your goal in life and keep working towards it.

                            Check out this article and you’ll understand Why Hard Work Beats Talent.

                            13. Be Brave Enough to Follow Your Intuition

                              From Steve Jobs, Co-founder of Apple Inc.:

                              “Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

                              In ancient Greece, there was a group of Oracles who lived in Delphi. Everyone who needed advice or to know their future visited them, from the poorest of society to kings. Above the doorway of the temple were the words “know thyself”.

                              If you strongly believe and desire something, chances are that you already have an idea how to get there. If not, you may naturally know what things will help you and what things will slow you down.

                              It’s like how your body can detect danger even when things seem safe.

                              Ultimately then, you need to trust your own instincts.

                              Final Thoughts

                              What you might have noticed is that many of the above lessons are similar — most are about developing the right state of mind. This clearly suggests that the key to achieving success, in whatever you wish, comes down to the way you approach it mentally.

                              Moreover, no matter what stage of life you’re at now, you can still make a difference and pursue success. You can make resetting your life possible when you do this: How to Start Over and Reboot Your Life When It Seems Too Late

                              More Tips for Achieve Success

                              Featured photo credit: Ryan Wong via unsplash.com

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