Confusing Words

Here comes another round of words that that can trip you up.

  • Discomfit originally meant “defeat,” but nowadays it often means “to make someone feel uncomfortable or embarrassed.” You can see why: discomfit looks very much like discomfort. But some authorities still insist that “defeat” is the only correct meaning. Rather than get mixed up in this argument, I would avoid discomfit altogether.
  • I have a friend who often uses equanimity to mean “equality.” But the correct meaning is “calmness”: “She held on to her equanimity throughout Jim’s tirade.”
  • Fulsome sounds like it should mean “extravagant,” but the dictionary meaning is “insincere.”
  • Disinterested does not mean uninterested – but many people use them interchangeably. When that happens, we lose a useful word from our language. Interest can mean “invested in” or “involved in”: “Joe owns an interest in a new start-up.” So disinterested means “not involved” or “impartial.” If you took someone to court, you’d want a disinterested person to hear your case.
  • Luxuriant means lush, thick, or profuse. A head of hair can be luxuriant. If you’re staying in a first-class hotel, you’re in luxurious surroundings – a different word.
  • Noisome sounds like a word you’d use to describe a rowdy party. But the actual meaning is “having a bad smell,” and it can also mean “unpleasant.”

noisome means "bad smell"



6 thoughts on “Confusing Words

  1. Kelly Pomeroy

    My Webster’s Third unabridged New World Dictionary 1986 defines “fulsome” as 1) copious, abundant; 2) offensive, repulsive; and 3) offensive from insincerity or baseness of motive; in bad taste.

  2. Margaret Swanson

    One problem I’ve noticed lately is the confusion of “suspect” with “suspicious.” I’ve heard people say “I’m very suspect.” If so, maybe they should be quiet about it. And the distinction between “reluctant” and “reticent” seems to be fading fast. Associated Press does not seem to have as high a standard as it once did.

  3. ballroomdancer Post author

    So the meaning has already changed (at least according to one dictionary!). Thanks, Kelly – I think this is another word that should probably be used cautiously, since both meanings are still in play.

  4. ballroomdancer Post author

    This “suspect” usage is a new one for me! I’ll have to listen for it. Reluctant/reticent might be a good one for my folder – and a future post. Thanks, Margaret!

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