Harvard linguist points out the 58 most commonly misused words and phrases

[Read the post]

He missed a couple that drive me straight up the wall. Melodramatic does not mean very dramatic. Incredulous does not mean very incredible.

Oh, and he’s wrong about parameter - but he’s a linguist, not a mathematician.


Some of these I never use at all - correctly or incorrectly – like fulsome. But I’ve been using disinterested incorrectly my whole life, apparently. I supposed you can be both uninterested and disinterested. Like the unbiased judge – just doesn’t care anymore, but he’s unbiased!


I’ll use the answer I once gave to an english lit teacher: “Says who?”

In some languages (french and Japanese fer sure, Spanish? which else?) there are established, official language authorities. But english? Not so much.


I am surprised to find that enormity doesn’t mean what I thought it did. Oh well, not like I ever use it any way.

But yeah, English is one of those languages that seems to evolve quite a bit over time.

ETA: who uses “politically correct” to mean “fashionable, trendy”?

8 pages for a listicle? you won’t be getting my ad views that easily, metrowestdailynews!


I think I read here on BB something like “Complain the younger generation isn’t using proper English all you want, but you’ll be dead soon and that generation will get to decide how words are to be used.”

Slightly off topic: niggard and niggardly are words, and the etymology and meaning has nothing to do with the N word. But because of how it sounds, it’s pretty much unusable these days.


• Refute means to prove to be false and does not mean to allege to be false, to try to refute. [Note: That is, it must be used only in factual cases.]
Correct: His work refuted the theory that the Earth was flat.

been seeing that a lot, lately.

1 Like

Ah linguists - still failing to see that language is a social practice. I’m with Wittgenstein. In most cases, the meaning of a word is its use.


Oh, come on, Boing – I could care less about lists like this.


Maybe your not they’re target audience.


Simplistic made it in, which pleases me. The misuse of that word is so common amongst the trendy minimalist set (and people reviewing UIs) it really needs to be addressed. In my overly-pedantic opinion, of course.


I think it passes the mustard because it’s Stephen Pinker.


I don’t know why but people saying disinterested when the mean uninterested is one of my pet hates. It has an almost physical effect on me.


Yes and those of us who use a word would often like to continue using it. The people saying disinterested when they mean uninterested have deprived me of a useful word and that means that I now have to explain what I mean because there is no other one single word that conveys the same meaning. By all means invent a new word or re-use a genuinely obsolete one but leave the useful ones alone.

1 Like

Pinker is not a prescriptivist, and this is not a book of rules. In fact, the New Yorker criticised Pinker for being too loose with the rules of grammar. The title seems to allude to the idea that you should get a sense of the writing style appropriate to the context and communication goal rather than sticking to arbitrary rules (such as those you might see in The Elements of Style by Strunk and White).

ETA: This listicle wasn’t written by Pinker - it’s a compiled list of mistakes that he picks up on in his book. The writer doesn’t go into detail on how these mistakes are addressed in the book itself, so it’s possible that there’s more discussion and less “this is wrong - write it this way instead”.

1 Like

The tortuous article is torturous?


And that’s another usage that grates. Why is the usual US expression “I could care less” when the meaning appears to be something like “It is not possible that I could care less” or “I care as little as possible”? In British English we say “I couldn’t care less”.

Perhaps a US English speaker could parse the US version for me.

1 Like

I’ve always used “couldn’t care less” – “could care less” is meaningless.


I could care less, but it’s not worth the effort.