Inconceivable! And Other Words That Don’t Mean What You Think They Mean

If you understood the reference made in the title of this post (hint: if you haven’t seen The Princess Bride, stop reading right now and go watch it), then you probably know what I’ll be discussing in this post.

In a living language like English, words sometimes change their meaning over time. For example, we use the word “prosaic” to mean dull or unimaginative; but originally, it simply meant “prose,” as in literature that wasn’t poetry.

So yes, words change, and even the most contentious literary lover might misuse a word or will encounter a new word they didn’t know before. But some words in recent years seem to have become problematic for many people. Here are a few of my pet peeves:

Literally. This means “exactly, without inaccuracy.” Nowadays, though, most people use it as nothing more than a modifier to add emphasis to a statement, like beginning a sentence of moderate importance with the word “dude.” There’s nothing wrong with “literally” moving into slang usage in this way, but where I take issue is when people forget what it actually means. Saying “Dude, my head literally exploded” in everyday conversation is one thing; but if you’re trying to sound professional in either your speaking or the written word, just remember that you wouldn’t still be here if your head had literally (i.e. actually, truly) exploded.

Alright. I’ve blogged about this word before. There’s not much to say here, because “alright” isn’t a word at all. What you’re trying to say is “all right.”

Welp or whelp. First of all, welp is not a real word. I see welp or whelp used in slang and conversation as an alternate way of saying “well” at the beginning of a sentence. For example, a Facebook update might say “Welp, there goes my great idea for my school project. :-(” Again, I’m fine with slang usage for words, but please don’t forget what the actual definition is. While “welp” doesn’t mean anything, a “whelp” is the pup or cub of a dog, a bear, or other animal, or can be used to as a somewhat derogatory term for an obnoxious child.

I’m sure there are other words that could be added to this list of “words that don’t mean what you think they mean.” These three are a good start, I think, mostly because I see them used (or misused) so frequently. What misused words would you add to the list?

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