Can you correct the error in the sentence below? Scroll to the bottom of today’s post for the answer.
Joe’s pep talk enervated me, and I couldn’t wait to start writing the report.
If you’re looking for ways to improve your language skills, you might enjoy this article: https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/505154/25-words-don%E2%80%99t-mean-what-you-think-they-do.
It’s a clear and engaging discussion of some words that have tricky meanings: luxurious/luxuriant and loath/loathe, for example.
But be warned! There are some traps here. Right off the bat, the author notes that literally is often used to mean figuratively: “I literally laughed my head off.” Umm…no, you didn’t. Your head is still nicely attached to your neck and shoulders.
That literally/figuratively confusion is often used as a sad example of the deterioration of English nowadays. I’ve also heard people from the UK complain that it’s yet another example of American disrespect for English.
To settle the issue, I headed for the Oxford English Dictionary, which traces the history of English words over the centuries. And what I discovered is that literally was first used to mean figuratively back in 1769 – in an English novel, not an American one.
Words change over time. I’ve stopped yapping about the widespread misuse of disinterested, for example. It’s supposed to mean “impartial”: you don’t have an interest, or an investment, in a proposal or program.
But today it’s often used to mean “bored,” and I’ve stopped worrying about it. We haven’t really lost anything: you can always use impartial, as I just did.
I recommend a healthy dose of common sense as you go through this Mental Floss word list. Some words have always been so confusing that they should never be used.
Nonplussed is a prime example: “I was surprised” (or “taken aback”) will do nicely. (That confusion is nothing new, by the way – I remember struggling with nonplussed back in the 1970s.)
The reverse principle is also true. If you know the difference between – say – luxuriant and luxurious, you’ll impress people like me who still care about those words.
I’m one of those dinosaurs who still reserve enormous for negative sentences (“enormous damage”). Enormity continues to have a negative meaning, but the expiration date on that definition is looming.
Have fun with these words!
Photo courtesy of Emdot
Instant Quiz ANSWER
Enervated is the wrong word: it means drained or tired. The word you need is energized:
Joe’s pep talk energized me, and I couldn’t wait to start writing the report.
What Your English Teacher Didn’t Tell You is available in paperback and Kindle formats from Amazon.com and other online booksellers.
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