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

by | Writing | 5 comments


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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  1. Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D

    You got me with “enormity” and I don’t usually get caught! Thanks for the superb post!

    • Zoe M. McCarthy

      Sheri, as I looked up these words, my eyes were opened on some. The good news is that I hadn’t been using those words. And usually when I get a nagging feeling on a word, I look it up.

  2. AnnaLee Conti

    One that makes me laugh is using Nauseous instead of Nauseated. That literally means you are making someone else sick. If you are nauseated, you are about to throw up. Nauseous means something that makes you feel sick to your stomach. The word nauseous is so often misused that it is now often listed as a synonym for nauseated.

    • Zoe M. McCarthy

      AnnaLee, I’m sorry it took so long to approve your helpful comment; the notifying email went to my junk mail. I’m glad you added nauseous. I had it on my list to include, but the word didn’t make it to the post. So, I appreciate you bringing it up!

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