Tag Archives: discomfit

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"