Are you using these words correctly?- Think again!

Jan 31, 2017 | Language

In our daily lives, especially in the corporate world, we often use words such as redundant, improvise and refute in the belief that they are communicating our messages correctly and effectively. “This work is redundant”, “We have to improvise on this presentation”, “Let’s refute their demands” are just some of the common sentences that we hear and say at our workplaces. But do they actually mean what we think they mean? Surprisingly, more often than not, the answer is no! In this article, we look at these and other commonly misused & misunderstood words and why they could be confusing for people around you.

Most Commonly Misused and Confusing Words in English

Most misused words: Redundant


Redundant is among the top words that are commonly misused. “Redundant data” or “Redundant information” is often used to mean repetitive data or information. However, redundant is not the same as repetitive! Redundant means something that is unnecessary or expendable or needless. Repetitive is something that occurs repeatedly or contains repetition. So, “redundant data” actually means that the data is not needed or unessential. It is, however, possible that something that is repetitive is also redundant if the repetition is unnecessary.

Most misused English words: Preoccupied


Many people who use the word ‘preoccupied’ tend to use it to mean that they are busy with something else. For example, “I am preoccupied with work. Hence, I won’t be able to make it to the party tonight”. However, this usage is wrong! Although preoccupied does come from the word occupied (meaning ‘busy’), preoccupied has nothing to do with being busy. It means to be engrossed or lost in a thought and unaware of your surroundings. For example, being preoccupied with your worries or anxiety. It is similar to daydreaming or being distracted.

Commonly misused words in English: Compelled


Compel is derived from the Latin words com (meaning ‘with’ or ‘together’) and pellere (meaning ‘to drive’), thus literally meaning “to drive together”. It was originally used for cattle to force or drive them to one place. When you are compelled to do something, it means you are forced or obliged to do it as opposed to doing it voluntarily. Thus, the sentence “I am compelled to help Tom” does not mean that you are helping Tom because you wish to but rather, that you feel forced or obligated to help him.

Common misused words in English: Enormity


The word enormity is influenced by the word ‘enormous’. However, they have rather distinct meanings. Enormous means something that is very large in size or quantity. For example, an enormous building or enormous sums of money. However, enormity is used to signify the extreme seriousness or extent of something that’s wrong or a grave crime. For example, enormity of war or enormity of the murders. So, while the sentence “I was amazed by the enormous building” is right, the sentence “I was amazed by the enormity of the building” is wrong! However, the sentence “I am horrified by the enormity of the Syrian war” is correct.

Confusing English words: Ironic


A lot of people don’t grasp the meaning of irony and more often than not, confuse it with coincidence. First, let’s see what the two words mean. Irony is a situation when something happens that is the opposite of what you expect. Coincidence, however, is a situation where 2 or more events happen at the same time when they weren’t expected to. To better understand both words, here’s an example.

A car accident occurs between two drivers Adam and Bob. Bob was drunk and talking on his mobile phone when the accident happened. Naturally, one would expect Bob to be the cause of the accident. As it turns out, it was Adam who misjudged a turn and rammed his car into Bob’s car. That’s an irony since it was contrary to our expectation. The coincidence is that Adam happens to be Bob’s father!

Confusing words in English: Restive


While restive is not a word that we use often in our daily lives, it is a source of confusion for many. It is derived from the word the Middle French word restif (meaning ‘to remain still’ or ‘motionless’). However, its meaning has taken a complete U-turn since then and restive currently means unable to remain still or restless/fidgety. So, calling a person restive wouldn’t mean lazy as you’d think. On the contrary, it would mean that the person is restless, anxious or edgy. It is what a lot of us feel when we are bored out of our minds and are itching to do something.

Commonly confusing and misused words in English: Refute


While refute looks similar to the word ‘refuse’ and many believe they both have the same meaning, that is completely untrue. In a previous article, we had looked at the difference between the words refuse and refute. To recap, refuse means to decline or indicate that you are unwilling to do something while refute means to prove something wrong or debunk something. So, you can refuse a job offer but you refute a scientific claim or theory.

Commonly confused and misused words in English: Improvise


This is a highly misused word, especially in the corporate world. You often hear people asking you to improvise on presentations and drafts. While they assume that their intention of asking you to “improve” your presentations and drafts is clear to you, it can be a source of confusion for those who actually understand what improvise means. Improvise does NOT mean to improve. Rather, it means to create, perform or fix something spontaneously without preparation or with available resources. For example, an actor in a play may have to improvise if he forgets his lines. Or a cricket batsman may have to improvise if the bowlers consistently bowl yorkers to him.