October 13, 2010

Word Problems

Filed under: Stray Thoughts — Diane @ 1:42 pm

Lately, I’ve noticed what seems to be an increase in the incidents of people using words and phrases incorrectly, in a way that makes it clear they don’t really understand what they’re saying. For some reason, these have been grating on my nerves more so than usual. Please pardon me while I take a few moments to get a small rant off my chest.

For instance, the use of the word “literally.” I just read a blog post in which the author opined that a certain type of lawsuit has “literally exploded over the past several years.” Uhm… I don’t think so.

“Literally exploded” means these lawsuits have actually blown up. As in KABOOM, smoking crater left behind, blood and guts everywhere blown up. I’m pretty sure if legal paperwork all over the country had been literally exploding for several years, I would have heard at least a passing mention of it on the news.

No, I think the author probably meant the number of lawsuits had figuratively exploded. As in, the word “explosion” used as a figure of speech, not indicating an actual, physical explosion.

Then there was the discussion forum where people try to get help for their technology issues. One person reported having trouble getting his MP3 player to “sink” with his computer.

Well, I’m not surprised. If he’d been trying to sync the two devices, he might have had more success. It’s short for “synchronize.” Get it? Synchronize…. sync… See how it works? Sheesh.

That’s what I mean about people not understanding what they’re saying. If the poster know that “sync” is short for “synchronize,” there’s no way he’d have come up with “sink.” At least, I like to think there’s no way.

Others that have bugged me in the past week or so:

  • Someone who was “phased” by an unexpected development. (The word they were looking for is fazed. As in “to disturb the composure of : disconcert, daunt.”)
  • A person who reported their interest was “peaked” by an interesting fact. (They probably meant to say it was piqued, because, you know, that’s the correct word. It’s French, means “pricked,” in the sense of “stimulated.”)
  • An individual who shared with us the revelation that the smell of good food could “wet” his appetite. (True, his mouth may have been watering, but what he meant to say — assuming he cared about correct usage, that is — was whet — as in “sharpen,” what a whetstone will do to a knife.)
  • A restaurant that advertised their beef dip sandwich “with piping hot au jus.” (That’s just silly. “Au jus” is French for “with juice.” Would you actually say, “with piping hot with juice”? Then don’t say anything comes “with piping hot au jus.” Just don’t. It’s like advertising the “soup du jour of the day.” Look, if you don’t understand what the words in the foreign language mean, either look them up or don’t use them. Using them wrong doesn’t make you look sophisticated. It just gives people who know better a good giggle at your expense.)

And don’t even get me started on the people who visit web “sights.” They’re web sites, folks — you know, like a job site or a construction site.

Sigh. Sorry about that. I just had to say something or I would have figuratively exploded.

— Diane


  1. As an English professor, I cannot stress to my classes often enough how important it is to use the correct words. Thanks for your rant, it was needed.

    Comment by Ava — February 13, 2013 @ 6:39 pm

  2. You’re very welcome. I fear we’re fighting a losing battle, though. Literally. (Sigh.)

    Comment by Diane Aull — June 25, 2013 @ 3:34 pm

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