Where Seldom is Heard the Perfect Word

Home, home on the range…

I ran across a blog post listing the ten most commonly misused words. In one person’s opinion, at least.

I can agree with some of these, like travesty and bemused. One of the words, conversate, I’d never heard of. No great loss, I guess, as it turns out it’s not even a real word.

I confess I don’t fully understand ironic. The post says it means “contrary to what you might expect;” it doesn’t mean “a funny coincidence.” But can’t a funny coincidence be contrary to what you might expect?  Because I’m a little fuzzy as to its meaning, I avoid using the word at all.

Apparently I don’t understand what rebut means, either, because, according to the blogger, refute does not mean rebut, but rather, to disprove with evidence. But as far as I knew, that’s what a rebuttal is.

And redundant? Since when does that not mean repetitive? Could you say that again? Because I’m not sure I understand.

Confusing, much?
Confusing, much?

Many times, it’s important to use the precise word and use it correctly. For instance, when you’re giving directions and you want the driver to turn left, you don’t want to say right by accident. If you mean intestinal flu, don’t malapropriately call it intentional. It can be embarrassing to confuse unanimous with anonymous. And speaking of embarrassing, make sure you don’t mistype it embracing.

Yes, word choices matter. I delight in a well-crafted sentence, a vivid metaphor, or a clever pun. But really, isn’t the purpose of words to convey a thought? And if the “wrong” word gets the point across without confusion, how can we be so sure it’s wrong?

Let’s take the word literally. Personally, I’ve taken it and thrown it away with ironic. But some people pepper their speech with it like a teenager punctuates his with “like.” (I blogged about this here, if I may be so redundant as to link to that post.) Because it can mean one thing in one instance and the exact opposite in another, why waste your breath with it? Better to just say what you literally mean.

And then there’s irregardless, which apparently has the same meaning as its little sibling regardless. Similarly, inflammable and its shorter twin, flammable might not look the same, but they work at the same fire department.

file3411262411364Sometimes the perfect word isn’t a word at all. My favorite example of this was coined by my son when he was a year and a half old. We were at the house of a friend, who was babysitting. The child was in a playpen, and as we passed by, she dropped her pacifier. When it fell outside the playpen, she started to cry. My son picked it up and handed it to her. “There,” he said. “That should happify her.”

And it did. And I knew exactly what he meant.

And by the way, if you think that was a sophisticated thing for an 18-month-old to say, you’re right. He started talking very early — and then, apparently, decided speech was overrated, because nowadays he’s known for his reticence. But that’s okay. Whatever happifies him.





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2 thoughts on “Where Seldom is Heard the Perfect Word

  1. Thanks for the fun post, Y. I can totally see my character Luke handing the new baby a pacifier and making a “happify” comment. Too bad he won’t get the chance in the series.
    ~ Glenda

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