We've all been there... Sometimes when you're chatting away, a word pops out your mouth that you're not sure you've used correctly. And in the case of the eight examples below, more people get them wrong than right. So now's your chance to find out once and for all... what is the meaning of this?
What you think it means: A wide variety of things.
What it actually means: An amount that is far greater than that which is needed.
Originally a medical word, plethora was used to describe a condition where a patient had an excess of bodily fluids. Now it is used more widely to describe a situation where there are excessive quantities of anything. Yet many people use it to describe a situation with a diverse array of options.
What you think it means: Something shocking or upsetting, a tragedy.
What it actually means: A mockery or a parody.
The words travesty and tragedy are commonly used as though they are interchangable, when in fact they are very different. While tragedy is used to describe dreadful, mournful events, travesty doesn’t necessarily refer to something bad, merely any parody or spoof. However, a common usage is a negative one. A travesty of justice is used when it’s deemed that a court case has failed in a way that has made a mockery of the legal system.
What you think it means: To be unconcerned or indifferent.
What it actually means: To be at a loss as to what to say or think.
Nonplussed is one of those words that people are often shocked to learn that they’ve been using wrong. It just sounds like it should mean that a person is totally chilled about something, doesn’t it? In fact, it’s a synonym for bewildered or mystified.
What you think it means: Used to describe something that is enormous.
What it actually means: Used to describe something that is very grave or serious.
Enormity must describe something big, right? Wrong! You’re thinking of enormousness. Enormity is, in fact, used to describe something very serious, or even evil. The sentence: ‘the enormity of the crime’ would refer to the heinous nature of what happened rather than its size or scale.
What you think it means: Used to describe something that is funny or unfortunate.
What it actually means: Used to describe something that is contrary to what was expected.
You can blame Alanis Morrisette for this one. Her 1996 hit Ironic lists a number of scenarios like ‘rain on your wedding day’ and ‘a traffic jam when you’re already late’. Are these unfortunate? Yep. Annoying? Certainly. Ironic… nope. The actual definition of irony is hard to explain, as there are many different types, but it generally means something that was completely at odds with what was expected to happen. A good example of irony is the fact that the Titanic was described as the first ‘unsinkable ship’ but it sunk anyway and, in fact, became one of history’s most notorious maritime disasters.
What you think it means: The best or greatest.
What it actually means: The last or final.
A fan of the sitcom Friends may describe it as ‘the ultimate TV comedy’. But they’d be wrong, as many new TV comedies have aired since Friends left our screens in 2004. Describing something as ultimate does not denote greatness, it simply means last. If Friends was actually the ultimate TV sitcom, we wouldn’t have had much to laugh at in the past decade or so. Nothing great about that!
What you think it means: Figuratively.
What it actually means: Actually.
Ever said that you laughed so hard that you literally peed your pants? You might want to rethink that (unless you’re prone to oversharing!) Literally is often used for emphasis in casual speech, as in the example above. But while it’s more likely that the person is trying to explain how extremely funny they found something, what they’re actually doing is confessing to an incontinence problem. See also: I could literally eat a horse. Yikes!
What you think it means: To casually browse or skim something.
What it actually means: To observe something thoroughly and in depth.
Perusing is a much more serious activity than many people think. Perusing a library does sound as though you’ll be having a casual stroll down the aisles, occasionally looking at the spines of the books. However, having a true peruse would mean a Saturday lost with your head in a series of books.