Words Misused – Part 3: The Real Meaning of These Words


This is the final post in my Words Misused series. Here’s a list of words many people use with an incorrect meaning in mind. I use The Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

Often Misused Words

Appraise: to set a value on. Not to inform.

Bemuse: bewilder or confuse. Not to amuse.

Dichotomy: a division or the process of dividing into two mutually exclusive or contradictory groups. Not disagreement, difference or discrepancy.

Enervate: to lessen the strength or vigor of; weaken in mind or body. Not energize.

Enormity: an outrageous, vicious, or immoral act. Not enormousness.

Fortuitous: happening by chance. Not fortunate.

Infamous: having a reputation of the worst kind; disgraceful. Not being famous.

Luxuriant: yielding or growing abundantly. Not luxurious.

Mitigate: to make less harsh, hostile, severe, or painful. Not to have weight or effect. 

Noisome: harmful, unwholesome; offensive to the senses. Not noisy.

Nonplussed: puzzled or perplexed. Not calm.

Penultimate: next to the last. Not the ultimate.

Opportunism: taking advantage of opportunities or circumstances especially with little regard for principles or ultimate consequences. Not creating opportunities.

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Poisonous: a substance that through its chemical action can injure or kill. Not venomous.

Practicable: capable of being put into practice, done, or accomplished. Not practical.

Proscribe: outlaw; to condemn or forbid as harmful. Not recommend.

Protagonist: the principal character in a drama or story; a leader or supporter of a cause. Not one who argues in favor of something.

Refute: to prove to be false by argument or evidence. Not by conjecture.

Simplistic: excessively simple, tending to overlook complexities. Not being simple.

Unexceptionable: not open to exception or objection, beyond reproach. Not ordinary.

Untenable: not being held, maintained, or defended. Not unbearable.

Verbal: of, relating to, or consisting of words; especially having to do with words rather than with the ideas to be conveyed. Not oral.

What’s a word you’ve heard or seen used with an incorrect meaning?

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Don’t Lead Your Readers Astray—Use the Right Word

by fanndango
by fanndango

by mensatic
by mensatic

The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”

— Mark Twain



When you write, do you highlight questionable words and then later search for a more accurate term? Do you do the same for bland words? Or, must you find the right word before you can progress to the next sentence?

Either way, you’ve developed good habits.


That’s why writers employ critique partners or editors. They fear they’ve overlooked substandard, misspelled, or wrong words.

Choose the best word for the following sentences.

  1. byAlvimann

    William had listened to enough of her ____. “Excuse me, madam, duty calls me elsewhere.”

    1. Boring talk
    2. Dribble
    3. Prattle
  1. Boring talk is accurate, but a solitary noun that nails William’s opinion would be much better.
  2. Dribble has no meaning in my dictionary that links to boring talk. The writer probably meant drivel. Drivel means dribble and nonsense talk.
  3. Prattle is the best of these: “foolish or inconsequential talk.” And, the sentence suggests it’s from a story set in an earlier period in which people might use such a word. My thesaurus also lists: gibber, nattering, burble, jabber, and babble. Of these, jabber or babble might work in a contemporary story.


  1. by keyseeker
    by keyseeker

    Honey ____ from the cabinet and dripped onto the counter.

    1. Ran
    2. Oozed
    3. Spread
  1. Ran is too fast for honey.
  2. Spread means gradually reached a larger and larger area. This is probably true inside the cabinet, but is not the picture of what we see coming out of the cabinet.
  3. Oozed is the best of these: “flow in a very gradual way.” My thesaurus also lists: seeped and crept.


  1. SDRandCo (26)His glock at the ready, Derrick ____ toward the cabin housing the meth lab. How many people inside would he surprise?
    1. Scuttled
    2. Moved
    3. Raced
  1. Moved is vague. It tells us nothing about how Derrick moved.
  2. Raced seems too fast for a man wondering how many people he’ll deal with inside. Stealth seems required.
  3. Scuttled is a good word: “run furtively with short quick steps.” But scuttle is often associated with rodents. Then again, Derrick wants to be spotted on his mission no more than a rat wants to be caught.

My thesaurus also lists: scurried, stole, and crept. Scurried is associated with small mammals, too. I like scuttle but crept or stole would work.


  • To find the best word, your word processor’s thesaurus/dictionary is a click away.
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What do you do to make sure you’ve used the best word? What word would you have used in the third exercise above?