Words You’ve Been Misusing

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We usually take words for granted considering we use them every day. However, it may come to a surprise to you that some of those words may not mean what you think. With so many words in the English language, it can be difficult to keep track of what they all mean!

Electrocute
Remember that time when you zapped your friend after coming off the slide and teasing, “Ha, I electrocuted you!”? Let us just hope that you did not really mean it. If you look closely, you will see two other words within electrocution: electric and execution. That’s right, it means death by electricity. So next time you think of sticking a fork in the toaster be careful not to be electrocuted.

Awful
We usually use the adjective awful to describe something horrible or bad. Frankly, I prefer its original definition. Back in the day, awful literally meant full of awe. So next time you think of awful, think of aweful with the e omitted. It sure is awful how many people neglect the awful etymology of awful.

Awesome
While we are discussing awe-inducing words, we must take a look at awesome. Chances are we have all used this colloquial interjection to express something jaw-droppingly cool. As Jill Shargaa laments in her satiric TED Talk “Let’s put the ‘awe’ back in ‘awesome,’” we seem to have completely overused this word to the point where it has been corrupted. Awesome is used for something that elicits awe and admiration.

Incredible
This one is a bit ambiguous. As I was researching, I thought to myself, some of these sources seem “incredible.” Immediately, it sounded a bit off in my head. Then I remembered it was Latin! In-, not, and -credere-, to believe. If you are a pedant, then the formal usage would be to describe something unbelievable. However, we tend to use it to express when we are flabbergasted by something beyond comprehension.

Idiot
Way back in Athens, the word idiot came from the Greek idios for private. Democracy was at its peak, and those who did not concern themselves with politics were called idiots (anglicized). Nowadays, we condemn those who are ignorant–or individuals with an IQ of 30 or lower for those of you in psychology–as idiots. So idiots could actually be off in their own world…

 

For further reading: Tyrannosaurus Lex by Rod L. Evans (2012)

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