The most misused words in the English language


Inc. Magazine recently released an article on the most misused words as chronicled by a Harvard linguist. I personally enjoy exercises in making sure that my language is correct. Or at least I should say that I find focus on written language to be worth the effort. I am afraid my oral (not verbal!) language will continue to always be a work-in-progress. It appears I will at least have to rethink my use of, “begs the question,” which from this list seems to be my most frequent linguistic sin.

Here are some highlights:

  1. Adverse means “detrimental.” It does not mean “averse” or “disinclined.” Correct: “There were adverse effects.” / “I’m not averse to doing that.”
  2. Appraise means to “ascertain the value of.” It does not mean to “apprise” or to “inform.” Correct: “I appraised the jewels.” / “I apprised him of the situation.”
  3. Beg the question means that a statement assumes the truth of what it should be proving; it does not mean to “raise the question.” Correct: “When I asked the dealer why I should pay more for the German car, he said I would be getting ‘German quality,’ but that just begs the question.”
  4. Bemused means “bewildered.” It does not mean “amused.” Correct: “The unnecessarily complex plot left me bemused.” / “The silly comedy amused me.”
  5. Cliché is a noun, not an adjective. The adjective is clichéd. Correct: “Shakespeare used a lot of clichés.” / “The plot was so clichéd.”
  6. Data is a plural count noun not, standardly speaking, a mass noun. [Note: “Data is rarely used as a plural today, just as candelabraand agenda long ago ceased to be plurals,” Pinker writes. “But I still like it.”] Correct: “This datum supports the theory, but many of the other data refute it.”
  7. Depreciate means to “decrease in value.” It does not mean to “deprecate” or to “disparage.” Correct: “My car has depreciated a lot over the years.” / “She deprecated his efforts.”
  8. Disinterested means “unbiased.” It does not mean “uninterested.” Correct: “The dispute should be resolved by a disinterested judge.” / “Why are you so uninterested in my story?”
  9. Enormity refers to extreme evil. It does not mean “enormousness.” [Note: It is acceptable to use it to mean a deplorable enormousness.] Correct: “The enormity of the terrorist bombing brought bystanders to tears.” / “The enormousness of the homework assignment required several hours of work.”
  10. Hone means to “sharpen.” It does not mean to “home in on” or “to converge upon.” Correct: “She honed her writing skills.” / “We’re homing in on a solution.”
  11. Hung means “suspended.” It does not mean “suspended from the neck until dead.” Correct: “I hung the picture on my wall.” / “The prisoner was hanged.”
  12. Ironic means “uncannily incongruent.” It does not mean “inconvenient” or “unfortunate.” Correct: “It was ironic that I forgot my textbook on human memory.” / “It was unfortunate that I forgot my textbook the night before the quiz.”
  13. Nonplussed means “stunned” or “bewildered.” It does not mean “bored” or “unimpressed.” Correct: “The market crash left the experts nonplussed.” / “His market pitch left the investors unimpressed.”
  14. Parameter refers to a variable. It does not mean “boundary condition” or “limit.” Correct: “The forecast is based on parameters like inflation and interest rates.” / “We need to work within budgetary limits.”
  15. Phenomena is a plural count noun — not a mass noun. Correct: “The phenomenon was intriguing, but it was only one of many phenomena gathered by the telescope.”
  16. Shrunk, sprung, stunk, and sunk are past participles–not words in the past tense. Correct: “I’ve shrunk my shirt.” / “I shrank my shirt.”
  17. Simplistic means “naively or overly simple.” It does not mean “simple” or “pleasingly simple.” Correct: “His simplistic answer suggested he wasn’t familiar with the material.” / “She liked the chair’s simple look.”
  18. Verbal means “in linguistic form.” It does not mean “oral” or “spoken.” Correct: “Visual memories last longer than verbal ones.”
  19. Effect means “influence”; to effect means “to put into effect”; to affect means either “to influence” or “to fake.” Correct: “They had a big effect on my style.” / “The law effected changes at the school.” / “They affected my style.” / “He affected an air of sophistication to impress her parents.”
  20. Lie (intransitive: lies, lay, has lain) means to “recline”; lay(transitive: lays, laid, has laid) means to “set down”; lie(intransitive: lies, lied, has lied) means to “fib.” Correct: “He lies on the couch all day.” / “He lays a book upon the table.” / “He lies about what he does.”

What I am listening to this week – Christmas Carols and a celebrity singer/songwriter

Bing Crosby

With Advent season coming to its end with the culmination of Christmas this week, my music rotation is heavily influenced by my favorite Christmas Carols. My favorite song that lends itself to a full ethereal chamber choir is, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” and one of my favorite renditions is Robert Shaw’s SATB (Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass) chorale.

The song fully encapsulates what to Christians the season is all about. The prophet Isaiah, foretelling the miracle of Christ’s birth discusses the significance of the immaculate conception when he states, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14) Immanuel, one of the many names given to Jesus, means, “God with us” and this is a central tenet of the Christian faith. The fleshly body of Christ and his birth on earth is the beginning of the bridge between imperfect man and a perfect God. Indeed, the song’s lyrics point to this day of ransom payment for Israel with Christ’s birth.  The body of Christ that dwelt amongst us is the critical element of the community of Christ. As Bonhoeffer states in The Cost of Discipleship, “A prophet and a teacher would not need followers, but only students and listeners. But the incarnate Son of God who took on human flesh does need a community of followers who not only participate in his teaching but also in his body. It is thus in the body of Christ that the disciples have community. They live and suffer in bodily community with Jesus. By being in community with the body of Jesus they are placed under the burden of the cross. For in that body they are all borne and accepted.”

Also heavy in my Christmas rotation is Bing Crosby’s medley “What Child is This/The Holly and the Ivy“. Crosby is the indisputable king of the Christmas Carol, and I don’t believe it is a point even up for debate. If people can add the Magi to the nativity scene, even though most scholars indicate that they would have arrived years after Christ’s birth, then I am tempted to put a singing Bing Crosby with his heavenly baritone and his effortless lilt into my own nativity scene. I am typically not a big fan of medleys, but this is Bing Crosby combining two of my favorites together and I can’t resist hearing it over and over this time of year.

Lastly and in a departure from the Christmas music, I picked up “Thieves” from She & Him while listening to one of my favorite syndicated radio shows Undercurrents this week. This song satisfies my proclivity for melancholy and sad songs about heartbreak. She & Him is comprised of the celebrity Zooey Deschanel and the less famous but adored in the Indie Rock and hipster scenes M. Ward. The opening lines from Deschanel’s unique and powerful vocals that sounds like a voice that I imagine as perfect for a traveling troupe performing ballads across the Old West sets the pace for the heartache that echoes throughout the tune:

“There’s thieves among us
Painting the walls
With all kinds of lies, and lies
I never told it all
What’s in my pocket?
You never knew
You didn’t know me well
So well, as I knew you”

The common refrain throughout the song is a woeful,

“And I know, and you know too
That a love like ours is terrible news
But that wont stop me crying
No, that wont stop me crying over you”

M. Ward provides great harmony is this song as well. The video is artistic and worth the watch as well.

“The College Football Playoff looks pretty simple, which seems so disappointing”

Courtesy of

Alas, I was hoping for a quagmire at the top of college football and controversy over who was left out, which would push us inexorably towards an 8 team playoff (which I think like athletes being paid directly, is inevitable and more imminent than the former), it appears that this year’s choices will be easy as described in the Washington Post– how boring.

Original article found courtesy of the exceptional blog, Newmark’s Door.