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Jul 18 2011

Six Annoyingly Misused Words in the English Language

Published by at 7:20 am under Editorial

It’s a constant thing that happens in the English language.   News and sports reporters are probably the biggest culprits of this but for some reason they enjoy making up definitions for words.

Over the years certain words are reflected in ways that are 100% contrary to their actually definitions.  How this came to be is anyone’s guess but it’s time people stop writing and speaking wrong.

Here are six words that are misused all the time….

Momentum


Ever notice when you’re watching a sporting event on television that the announcers use the word momentum in referring to a shift in the game?  They’ll say something like “Colorado’s got the momentum now!” which basically means that Colorado has taken the energy or advantage in the game.  Momentum is a physics term that means “The quantity of motion of a moving body, measured as a product of its mass and velocity.”  How it means a team’s advantage is beyond me.

Unique


It’s funny because it’s not that the word unique itself is used wrong.  People use this word in the right context but always incorrectly accompany it with other words to try and quantify it.  Ever hear someone say “that’s really unique” or “very unique.”  Unique itself means “Being the only one of its kind; unlike anything else.”   With that definition there’s never a need for an adjective.

Literally


Technically this word is supposed to be used to describe something that is actually happening.  Granted most people use it as slang and in a joking manner but when you really think about it, it’s usually gross.   “I literally shit my pants.”   That’s a pretty crappy visual wouldn’t you say?

Chronic


Chronic is originally a medical term meaning “long term”; it has the same root as “chronometer”. Someone suffering from chronic pain has long term pain. It’s often used to mean “very bad.”  Ever hear people say that economy is in chronic shape?  Nope, doesn’t mean that at all.  How can the economy be in long term shape?

Instant


These days, it’s almost universally assumed that “instant” actually means “quickly” or “without intervention.”  Instant coffee anyone?  Instant actually means at a precise moment in time.   Such as “the instant lightning bolted out of the sky.”   But for some reason people think it means fast.

Enormity


Did you know that this word actually means “extreme evil?”  For some reason people think it’s referring to something large or enormous.  People will use the term to describe the “largeness” of a certain moment when in fact it doesn’t mean that at all.

 

 





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21 responses so far

  • cde

    Momentum is a very subtle use. By saying a team has momentum, it calls other scientific ideas. Something that has momentum is moving, and through inertia, tries to stay in motion. It is also a comparison, because if One team is moving, the other is not. Or if one team is moving forward, the other is moving backwards, a simple analogy for advantage. Hell, momentum produces a mechanical advantage.

    Out of the 6, momentum is properly used.

  • Michael

    I disagree with your inclusion of momentum. Imagine two teams pushing on opposite sides of a large object. When one team starts to move the block (mass) and increases it’s speed in that direction (velocity), that team gains momentum.

    The way that term is used in sports is a metaphor but describes the exact same process. When a team starts doing better, the other team has to work harder to overcome that momentum.

  • JPK

    Your observations vary between pedantic and flat out wrong. And is there anything lamer than an incorrect pedant?

    Momentum does not make sense to you in the context of sports? Does it make sense to you if I say that a team is on a roll? In football, where it’s probably most often used, it makes almost perfect literal sense, as it is often invoked when a bunch of huge dudes (mass) are moving quickly (velocity) toward the endzone to score.

    I have quibbles with the other ones, but this is enough.

    -John

  • http://www.maletic.org dusanmal

    Concept of “momentum” vastly predates current usage in Physics and it did originally apply exactly as used in sports, military,… examples author didn’t like above. “Motus”, “impetus”, “Impulse”… all originated from that initial, philosophical concept of “quantity of motion” but NOT only in Physical sense instead in Philosophical concept sense of “having initiative”. Some languages still do not have word to translate “momentum” to, it translates to that ORIGINAL concept (literally translated back it would be something like “having initiative”, “quantity of motion”,… depending on the language).

  • http://www.purplepenquin.com Purplepenquin

    Much like your example, a buddy recently said that he literally shit his pants. When I told him he should go clean it up, he replied that he didn’t really shit his pants, just literally. Sad thing is that only one other guy in the group knew what I was talking about.

    That said, I think “momentum” is just another of those words that sports has co-opted for their own purposes…kinda like “Hail Mary” passes and “stealing” a base.

  • http://languageisconstantlyevolving.tv James

    The use of “momentum” in sports is a metaphor. An object that has momentum has mass and velocity. If a team takes the advantage in a sporting event, it has size and speed while the team that lost momentum has lost its size or speed.

    I’ve never heard anyone say, “The economy is in chronic shape.” – but that’s just me.

    Enormity does not refer to size?
    I had to look this up. And with the information on the interwebs, I fail to see how you could state your opinion (as well as many others’) as fact.

  • Yes, well.

    e·nor·mi·ty
       /ɪˈnɔrmɪti/ Show Spelled[ih-nawr-mi-tee]

    3. greatness of size, scope, extent, or influence; immensity: The enormity of such an act of generosity is staggering.
    (Dictionary.com)

    Also, to say a team has the momentum is the same as saying a career has momentum (see Dictionary.com again, definition for momentum).

    And I assume that “instant” is a shortened form of “instantaneous”, or in some contexts, “instantly”.

    I just feel like if you’re gonna be snooty about language, at least do it right.

  • DVS1

    I’m on the fence about Momentum. I can easily relate to and understand what its trying to convey in the context of sports.
    At the same time, however, it is quite wrong because we are to assume that the one that has momentum has an advantage. While actually it doesn’t specify which way the team’s momentum is heading (ie. forward or backward). Also, neither team can have more momentum than another. They are either heading in one direction or another. Think of two rams butting heads. They have the same momentum whether It’s backward or forward. Only direction can vary. (ie. Winning or losing).

  • Eric

    I’ve never actually heard anyone use “chronic” the way this article describes, nor have I heard anyone use the word “enormity”.

  • BKT

    The thing about being a grammar or diction Nazi is you had better be correct. In the phrases “that’s really unique” and “very unique”, “really” and “very” are adverbs. They’re modifying the adjective “unique.”

    I’m also surprised “then” vs. “than” didn’t make this list, though it can be considered a misspelling instead of a misuse.

  • gestalterator

    Are you a high school student?

  • 4Fun

    Yo yo yo chronic is that totally unique $hit that will literally fvck you up with such enormity that it will shift the momentum of your thoughts in an instant…yo!

    Also, this article is lame.

  • Instant Ramen

    This article doesn’t work unless you believe in an ideal truth which is independent of what society believes.

    Words change over time, we can see that readily enough, but why should they have one fixed meaning which can’t be altered or spun to fit a new niche?

    I think it’s just as foolish to arbitrarily pick the definitions from a dictionary which is itself based on language which has changed since the words’ first meanings.

    Life would be boring without etymological change since we’d all still be talking in grunts and snarls.

  • Terry Grinnalds

    Let’s not forget “presently” which means “in the future” but generally is used to mean “now.”

  • Lucas

    I usually enjoy reading these sorts of lists…but this one just kind of bored me. I kept expecting it to gain some momentum (get it?) but I was let down…

  • duhq

    ever hear of vernacular? definitions change based on common usage. your an idiot in other words.

  • Joe

    re: “unique”

    “The earliest meanings of unique when it entered English around the beginning of the 17th century were “single, sole” and “having no equal.” By the mid-19th century unique had developed a wider meaning, “not typical, unusual,” and it is in this wider sense that it is compared: The foliage on the late-blooming plants is more unique than that on the earlier varieties. The comparison of so-called absolutes in senses that are not absolute is standard in all varieties of speech and writing.”

    [ source: Usage note @ http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/unique ]

    So apparently the author has been annoyed with English for the last 150 years or so.

  • guynoir

    What? No NAUSEOUS? The misuse of this word nauseates me.

  • zooks

    This is just another example of someone who thinks he/she is more knowledgeable than others.

    Words evolve all the time. OK, the “economy is in chronic shape” is a pretty bad, but the rest work simply because everyone understands.

    Nitpick all you want, English is overrated anyway.

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