Many of the "common" usages here have become accepted definitions of the words listed. Do not treat a definition as incorrect simply because it is listed here.
Zombie: This is a case where the continued wrong use of a word in popular culture has redefined the term. However, using the term "zombie" to describe any old reanimated corpse is technically wrong. Zombies are supposed to be bodies specifically animated and directed by a supernatural force (as in Voodoo, Hollywood or otherwise). Zombies don't even have to be dead or undead, as drugged Haitian slaves might tell you. Similarly, ghouls are typically viewed as type of Undead, but in Arabic myth they are actually jinn believed to have been sired by Iblis, that dwelt in graveyards and other uninhabited places. Revenantsnote from the Latin reveniō, -īre = "come back" actually were undead, but they weren't typically held to be specifically brought back, they come back of their own accord, either for some specific purpose (such as to take revenge on their killer) or just to harass their families.
Universe: Technically speaking, the "universe" is the totality of everything that exists. If two "universes" are capable of interacting with one another, they're (strictly speaking) part of the same universe. This one is extremely pedantic, particularly if you have a multiverse (itself not quite an oxymoron; that would be "multi-universe"). It turns out that 'Universe' is for the entirety of everything, and 'universe' is for the big balls of space and time.
This is a case of the word actually changing, at least within the realm of modern cosmology, where the "universe" is our observable reality, and yet other universes with their own branes, time-space continua and physical laws are predicted to also exist. The conglomeration of absolutely everything is called, simply, The Bulk. But the fact that our own universe is incomprehensiblyhuge, the need to ponder what is beyond it is rare.
Omniverse is sometimes used to refer to "Universe".
Whereas within modern metaphysics, "world" is used for the totality of all existing things, and "universe" for universe as in cosmology. This becomes confusing for the uninitiated when talk of possible worlds — ways the totality of stuff might, logically, have been — is combined with talk of multiverse theory within physics as entirely reasonable statements like "Even if our universe is not actually part of a multiverse, there is a possible world close to this one in logical space in which our universe does exist as part of a multiverse" are a bit puzzling, especially for those who use "the world" and "Earth" interchangeably.
In quantum physics, a "multiverse" is viewed as a multitude of "universes", of which we are one possibility. To us it's the only one. They're all real, but we can't ever communicate with might-have-beens or especially "have-beens" or "will-bes." So to a layman it's all the same. The theoretical or philosophical implications of quantum physics has never stopped people from applying it, though, as you can observe on the macroscopic level right now by reading this on a computer.
The man who coined the word "multiverse", William James, said that if there was something beyond the universe, it wasn't the universe; it was one of a number of multiverses that were aspects of a greater universe; exactly the opposite of how the words are used now.
This is a very old progression: by the very act of coming up with a term for "everything", you raise the question of whether there could be anything else. This also happened to φύσιςromanization phusis (in Greek) and nātūra (in Latin), which, having been used to mean "everything" came to mean a more limited set of things. (C. S. Lewis traces the process nicely in Studies in Words.)
If a universe we can't observe can be hypothesized, more than one could also hypothesized. Speculative Fiction illustrates alternatives to the observable universe, so "multiverse" and the plural "universes" would be appropriately used in this context.
Dimension: A "dimension" is technically just a set of directions, of which we have three in space (up/down, left/right, and forward/back, relative to the observer). Time was previously believed to be a fourth dimension along the same lines, but is now considered to be something else entirely which is different from, but related to, the other three. However, the word "dimension" is commonly used for an Alternate Universe, in the sense of a place where the physical laws are entirely different from those in a place you could reach by traveling along another spatial dimension. See also: Another Dimension. This is only very slightly less pedantic than "universe".
It means rather something more similar to "degree of freedom". If a world has 9 dimensions, I can move a point in 18 directions; if a vector space has 9 dimensions, I can have 9 linear independent vectors. The problem with a word set is that cardinality of set is described by cardinal number (0, 1, 2, ... + various infinities) while there are branches of mathematics when you meet 2.5-dimensional objects.note And not in the sense of 2½D, mind you.
This is actually a contraction for "another set of dimensions". That is, a location which has up/down, left/right and forward/back axes, but where those are entirely unrelated to the set of dimensions bearing those directional indicators commonly experienced. One could use "parallel universe" to mean the same thing (but see above). The implication is that physical laws are the same (which they need not be in a multiverse) but the spatial dimensions are unconnected to the ones we experience.
The malapropism is sort of a half-understood thing. People that actually understand what they're writing about generally refer to other "planes of existence" that are displaced in some other dimension, which is related to the multiverse idea above but posits that other realities are simply displaced in a dimension we don't normally move along and can, in fact, interact.
Sentient/Sapient: To be sentient is to have the power of perception by the senses. To be sapient is to have or show great wisdom or sound judgment. These words are often used to mean things like simply being capable of intelligence or judgment or used to mean "self-aware", "conscious", or capable of subjective experience.
Conscious/self-conscious: "Self-conscious" typically means "unduly conscious that one is observed by others" where "conscious" is taken to mean "immediately aware of". Less commonly, they are both used to mean "self-awareness" and things to that general effect.
The word republic is a vague one supposed to mean a political system in which there is a large degree of participation and equality amongst the citizens. A republic is not necessarily a democracy, this is true, but a dictatorship is certainly not a republic, whether it has hereditary rulers or not. Modern political philosophy — such as the word of Phillip Pettit — employs this older use. "'Republic' means not a monarchy'" is a case of people in the 1900s who kept using the word when it didn't mean quite what they thought it meant.
A republic is essentially any political system that incorporates any caste-based electoral instrument, regardless on how widespread its use is. One good example is the (First) Republic of Poland called so since the 15th century, when the local councils of noblemen gained an important influence over the king (first a hereditary then an electoral monarch) and the royal court and were essentially ruling their respective lands.
In the ancient Greek republics, often called "democracies", the voters were limited to male free citizens who had finished mandatory military service, thus excluding women, slaves, infirms (unfit for military service) and metics (free immigrants).
The Soviet-controlled "satellite countries" were technically republics (there were regular elections, and the countries were ruled by the same instruments of power as in any other republic) but these instruments were warped by e.g. fixing the local party-to-opposition ratio, so that the opposition could never overpower the Soviet-backed party. This is why they are often called "façade republics" or "controlled republics".
According to Cicero, one of the last consuls of The Roman Republic, a Republic was a combination of the three types of government: aristocracy (via the Senate), democracy (through the Legislative Assemblies and the veto-holding Tribunes), and monarchy (through the consuls).
It certainly doesn't help matters that the original Latin term rēs publica is best literally translated as "the public thing," where rēs ("thing") can be just as vague as it is in English.
It also doesn't help matters that "dictator" was originally a legitimate office of the Roman republic in times of emergency.
Tyrant in the original, ancient Greek meaning, was a single person who ruled over a city through usurpation (they took sovereignty by force, without right or permission). It was a value-neutral term, not a pejorative for an evil or oppressive ruler. Many ancient Greek tyrants were actually very well-liked (for instance Peisistratos of Athens). That said, the negative connotation of "tyrant" also comes from Ancient Greece: specifically Athens, where the term first showed up, when there was an "evil tyrant". It's been negative ever since. Strictly speaking, the meaning was "a ruler whose rule doesn't come from the state's laws" (i.e. synonymous with "usurper"). As such, the name was often used to describe rulers appointed by foreign powers (like in the states conquered by the Persian Empire).
Despot (Greek δεσπότηςromanization despótēs, meaning "master"; feminine: δέσποιναromanization déspoina) was a court title of the Byzantine empire, roughly meaning "lord." A despot was given control of a smaller region of the empire, called a despotate. It was only when American revolutionaries said that the British were ruling them as they would an imperial outpost that "despotism" and "despot" came to be pejorative. Despotism was also associated with absolute authority before it became associated with unjust authority.
Dictator was originally someone who wielded absolute power in Ancient Rome at the behest of the Senate in times of emergency, and his time in office was restricted to six months, until the next election; one may not have liked the particular dictator in question, but the office itself wasn't a bad thing compared to the emergency under which it arose (and in the Republic, the Romans did not like kings). Only when Caesar became dictator for life did some republicans begin to resent it, and even up to millennia later, in the 19th and early 20th centuries (when democratic ideals were still taking root in much of the Western world), it wasn't necessarily a bad title compared to, say, hereditary absolute monarchy. Essentially, the modern usage of the term focuses on the "taking power and ruling absolutely" part of the definition, ignoring the part about said rule being limited and temporary.
Bishōnen (美少年hiragana びしょうねん)is only supposed to mean androgynously attractive underaged (specifically, under eighteen) males, with 美男子hiragana びだんしromaji bidanshi addressing of-age examples. Of course, outside Japan, very few care about these semantics.
The Last Rites of the Roman Catholic Church is not just the anointing of the sick with oil. It's a sequence of three rituals: Penance (Confession), then Anointing of the Sick, then Eucharist (Communion); the last is also called Viaticum, "provision for the journey". Additionally, the Anointing isn't limited to being administered to the dying, which is why it's called Annointing of the Sick, not Annointing of the Dying.
Akimbo: The word "akimbo" means "bowed" or "bent", and is most often used for arms bent with hands resting on hips. Perhaps because this pose is often used by two-pistoled gunfighters in media, the word is sometimes mistakenly applied to any situation in which someone has a matched pair of weapons in his hands. The names of the tropes Guns Akimbo and Swords Akimbo feature this mistake. A noted example of the correct meaning is a one-time Freakazoid! villain named Arms Akimbo, whose arms are permanently stuck in place, hands on his hips.
Satellite: A "satellite" is any object that orbits around a larger object, such as a planet. Most people think of satellites as the man-made pieces of technology that detect weather and spy on the Russians, but any natural chunk of space rock can be a satellite. Moons, of course, count too, as do planets which orbit a sun. Many people refer to their satellite dishes as simply "the satellite," leading some people to confuse the meaning of the word. This is why we now have the distinction between "natural satellite" and "artificial satellite".
Incidentally, the word originally meant a (human) hanger-on, such as a courtier; Galileo applied it metaphorically to the things that scurry around Jupiter. The application of the word to the smaller members of the Warsaw Pact is perhaps truer to the original than the now-usual sense.
The movie Attack of the 50-Foot Woman uses "satellite" to mean UFO. It was made around the time that Sputnik was launched, and the screenwriter apparently thought the word meant any object flying in space.
A ghetto was originally that part of a city where Jews were allowed to reside. It has expanded to mean any slum that is dominated by a single ethnic group. By the 1950s, the term was mostly used in the US to mean poor black neighborhoods.
If you're interested: the word was first used in Venice, apparently about 1516. It may be short for borghetto, a diminutive of borgo (related to English borough and German Burg) meaning 'walled city'; but dictionaries say 'origin obscure'.
Incidentally Venice has a large segment — separated from the bulk of the city by a wide channel — with the suggestive name Giudecca.
That's because it was arguably the original Jewish quarter of the city (I'm not sure about that, though, as Jews were allowed to live in any area of the city before 1516). When it got fashionable among Venetian noble families to build their residence there, the Jews had to be relocated to the location of the present-day Ghetto, where a foundry the name probably came from (Venetian gheto= slag) once stood.
Knots: The nautical term for speed is "knots", not "knots per hour" (the term for distance is "nautical miles", not "knots"). "Knots" refers to an arcane method of measuring speed by counting knots in a rope but has since become "one nautical mile per hour". "Knots per hour" is, however, a valid unit for acceleration.
Pedophilia is specifically a sexual attraction toward prepubescent children. According to the DSM-IV, it can be exclusive (the person is only attracted to children) or non-exclusive (the person is also attracted to adults or at least post-pubescent children), but it must have been acted on in some way, though not necessarily to the point of molesting a child. Some people would prefer to define the term differently than this — for example, in such a way that only the exclusive form counts. There are also a few who think the word should be "pedosexual", and they may have a point. (After all, do bibliophiles want to have sex with books?) But regardless of these details, on any reasonable definition:
An artist who draws a child in a nonsexual context (for example) is not necessarily a pedophile, no matter what details are included.
Someone who is primarily attracted to adults but has sex with prepubescent children is not necessarily a pedophile. Many child molesters don't have a particular attraction to children, but are simply exploiting a vulnerable warm body; analogous phenomena include prison rapes.
It is worth noting that in the typology of sexual offenders there are also people who are attracted to children due to their own heavy regression that renders them unable to relate to other adults. They are usually not categorized as pedophiles but as 'regressed child molesters'.
Related to the above, there is no such thing as a "convicted pedophile". This isn't Orwell's Oceania; one cannot be sent to prison simply for having certain thoughts. There is, by contrast, most certainly such a thing as a "convicted child molester". Even if such a person is a pedophile (not a given), they were not convicted merely for being one, but for some specific action they took as a result.
A sexual preference for pubescent children (around 11-14 years of age) is not pedophilia, but hebephilia. "Prepubescent" is quite different from merely "under the legal age of consent".
One may see the term "ephebophilia" (sexual preference for mid-to-late adolescents, generally ages 15 to 19) used to make a similar distinction. Interestingly, while such a distinction is usually scoffed at in Internet discussion, it can have an enormous impact on the legal/psychological consideration of specific cases.
On a related point, "pederast" refers specifically to a man in a (usually sexually charged) relationship with an adolescent male. Though often incorrectly thought to be an uneducated corruption of "pedophile", "pederast" is actually the older of the two words. The difference is in the Greek root word used for "lover", ἐραστήςromanization erastēs instead of φίλοςromanization philos; the former refers to ἔρωςromanization erōs, or sexual desire, while the latter refers to φιλίαromanization philia, a more general kind of love. (The Ancient Greeksnote at least according to C. S. Lewis; this is debated by linguists had four words for love: ἔρως, φιλία, στοργήromanization storgē—familial love, and ἀγάπηromanization agapē—divine love.)
The word perverted can refer to anything from child molestation to strange but harmless sexual fantasies, depending on whom you ask. However the definition of a pervert is someone who corrupts or misuses a person or thing; to say a person is perverted is closer to declaring them morally reprehensible than to saying they have a sexual disorder. The word originally referred to people opposing religious doctrine, and probably found its current (perverted?) usage in some churches' campaign against homosexuality.
And speaking of perversions, the adjectival form of the word is perverse. "Perverted" would be a past-tense verb, e.g. "Jack underwent perversion yesterday. He was perverted. Jack is now perverse." The more broadly applicable "-ed" form may be due to that being more widely applicable to words that may lack a specific adjectival form. Of course, people still talk about someone "perverting the course of justice" in a legal context.
On that note, orgy does not necessarily mean a sexual orgy. The word comes from ancient Greece, where an orgy was a secret nighttime cultic congregation overseen by an orgiophant (a teacher or revealer of secret rites), which was celebrated with dancing, drunkenness, singing, and other such things. Add those together, and sexual intercourse probably resulted from excessive booze and celebration. However, "orgy" can mean mass consumption of anything; a popular non-sexual orgy is eating. Some use the word "orgy" regarding violence.
When people hear the word nimrod, they may think of a fool or lunkhead, but the word actually comes from a powerful figure in The Bible and Mesopotamian mythology. Nimrod was such a great hunter that his name became synonymous with hunters (The RAF even named a reconnaissance plane after him). However, when a popular Looney Tunes short featured Bugs Bunny calling Elmer Fudd a "poor little Nimrod", children watching assumed that the word was an insult, and the interpretation stuck.
It probably wasn't helped by the earlier Felix the Cat antagonist, named Nimrod, who was both a hunter and constantly made a fool of by Felix.
It's not too far off though. Tradition says Nimrod became so full of himself that he began trying to replace God with himself, and started building the Tower of Babel to challenge him directly. To call that plan foolish would be an understatement.
Transpire formerly meant "breathe", and still does in a scientific context. It has a legitimate second meaning, "to become known". It is now used to mean "happen", but some people react quite strongly to that usage.
Matinée means "that which takes up the space of the morning" (from the French matin, "morning"). The current meaning (an event in the afternoon) was an ironic one used by American high society as a way of referring to how they always woke up late. Also, the original rule of thumb was that anytime before dinner—originally the midday meal—was considered morning, but as dinner became a nighttime meal, the Matinée followed.
The word is currently used to refer to an event that usually occurs at night (such as a movie showing) instead happening in the the morning or (by extension) the early afternoon.
Item is Latin for "as well as"; the fact that it ended up preceding each object in a list gave it its modern usage.
When it comes to intelligence tests, people use expressions such as measuring IQ. But that's a bit like saying that you're measuring the miles per hour of a car. You're not measuring its miles per hour, you're measuring its speed, and miles per hour is simply the unit. Likewise, IQ is a unit used to measure a person's g-factor, the theoretical construct for intelligence.
IQ is in and of itself an incorrect term (unless the work happens to take place in the early to mid 20th century); the proper modern term would be IQ score. "IQ" stands for Intelligence Quotient and was proposed by Stern as a number derived from dividing the age which the individual's knowledge was most common at by the age they actually were. While this score worked fine for children, it was hard to construct valid scores for adults. The modern "IQ tests" such as the Stanford-Binet actually just centralize the bell curve of scores at 100 with an approximate standard deviation of 15 (and since the scores are derived from statistics, this means that extremely high IQ scores are often meaningless).
Meaningless, because the highest percentile bracket maxes out at 99.99%, and the people who score higher than any 9999 other takers could cover a broad range of IQ scores. Even more meaningless over time because subsequently tested population may adjust the distribution of scores, regardless of how the center of the curve may be maintained.
A meteoroid is a solid object moving in interplanetary space, of a size considerably smaller than an asteroid and considerably larger than an atom. When a meteoroid enters the Earth's atmosphere, It is moving so fast that it compresses the air before it to the point that it is heated enough to melt and give off light. The streak of light in the sky this produces is a meteor; the rock itself is never called a meteor. If this streak is very bright, it is called a fireball or bolide (colloquially a shooting star). The solid remnant which hits the ground (or sea) is a meteorite. Meteorites are actually still very cold after they hit the ground (having been floating around in very cold space for quite a long time). However, the impact with the ground and the transfer of energy melts some of the rock or earth on the Earth's surface; this molten material is knocked away and when it solidifies is called a tektite. An asteroid is a chunk of rock larger than a meteoroid, floating freely in space.
The word willy-nilly, universally understood today to mean "haphazardly" or "arbitrarily", originated as a contraction for "will ye or nill ye", roughly meaning "whether you like it or not".
Subliminal simply means "below the threshold of sensation or consciousness", said of states supposed to exist but not strong enough to be recognized.
Sycophant is an ancient Greek term for "informer" and "public accuser". They would expose the crimes of others to the authorities and be rewarded with a fee. By the 5th century BC, Aristophanes' comedies point to this having become a profession and practitioners caring little of the truth behind their accusations. Thus it gained the meaning (retained in Greek) of a false accuser, a slanderer. The English meanings of "flatterer", "bootlicker", are only loosely associated with the original meaning, by application to a hanger-on who curries favor with one person by denigrating others.
A nation is a collective group of people who share a racial or cultural identity. A state is a political entity that controls a geographical area. While the two often coincide, and are used as synonyms (since it became fashionable for the state to rule in the name of the people), there are plenty of places where they do not:
Korea is a nation split into two adjoining states. Nowhere else in the world is there a homogeneous group of people so starkly divided by ideology.
In Africa, the boundaries of nations and states rarely have anything to do with each other.
Being Hispanic and being Spanish aren't the same thing. Hispanic people are of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin, regardless of race. Hispanics may be white, black, aboriginal, Asian, or any combination of the above. Spanish people (also known as Spaniards) are from Spain, and only Spain. People may confuse the two terms because Spanish culture has a huge influence on Hispanic culture and is the name of the language commonly spoken by those people in those places, and indeed because many of these regions used to be part of the Spanish Empire, but that's like calling people from the U.S. "English". Not helping the confusion is that Hispanic until recently also sometimes meant 'of Spain', from Hispānia, the Roman name for what is now known as the Iberian Peninsula, which is in Europe, and includes Spain. In truth, neither "Spanish" nor "Hispanic" have any better geographical accuracy (in fact the Iberian Peninsula, containing Portugal, part of France, and other places that are neither Spanish nor Hispanic as it is understood, is slightly worse) and the use of either of them is because of their connection to the Spanish Empire. This is likely a factor in why the term "Hispanic" is slowly going out of favor and being replaced by Latino (for males)/Latina (for females) and more country of origin-specific names (e.g. Chicano [for males]/Chicana [for females] for Americans whose predecessors came from Mexico).
To further confuse matters, on many job and education applications, it is explicitly stated that "Hispanics may be of any race."
It doesn't help that different U.S. government agencies use different definitions — sometimes excluding Spanish people, sometimes not, sometimes including Brazilians and Portuguese, sometimes only Brazilians...
It would be more accurate to say "Hispanic is what people of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin, regardless of race, are called in the U.S.A." People in Latin America don't think of themselves as being "Hispanic" most of the time, although they may acknowledge some degree of shared culture.
Conservative should not be used to describe someone who is opposed to change of any sort, let alone somebody who wants to turn the clock back to an earlier era. That is a reactionary, and such people are actually quite rare nowadaysnote outside the Internet, of course. A conservative merely argues that things should not be changed if it is not absolutely necessary to do so, or that change should come as gradually as possible. Many conservatives in the past have been willing to accept economic reform (and, to a lesser extent, social reform) as long as the cultural norms of civilization itself were left untouched.
"Conservative" and "liberal" have come to mean very different things than when the terms were more or less established in the French revolution; les conservateurs were those opposed to the social ideals of the revolution and wanted to "conserve" the monarchy — and, incidentally, sat on the right wing of the French parliamentary chamber — while les libéraux were those intent on "liberating" the people from monarchic rule. In the past few decades, conservatives have been more about binding personal liberties ("conserving" the social order) while disestablishing the state ("liberating" people — in theory, anyway — from rulership), while the liberal side of the equation seems to maintain its intent to open up social freedoms while maintaining (or even increasing) the role of the state. This is the problem with defining a multi-dimensional question on a simple left/right axis.
''Classical'' liberalism, interestingly, is a political philosophy in which the freedom of the individual person is prized over all other ideals — however, the freedom of any individual stops at the point where it begins to infringe upon the freedom of other individuals ("liberal" still has this sense in mainland Europe; in North America "libertarian" is closer, though not quite synonymous). How this intersects with the modern Anglosphere's liberal paradigm, which favors increasing safety regulations (up to and including seat-belt laws), is an interesting question.
It gets even more complicated, because "conservatism" also is often used in philosophy as a description of behaviour based on some non-negotiable principles or values and thus it is more a opposition of "opportunism" or "pragmatism". The values may be of any kind, so it is completely possible to be a "conservative liberal" (this is the description actually used by at least several European libertarian parties) if one considers liberty to be a non-negotiable value. In this vein, a conservative liberal will vote in favour of any solution that maintains liberty at the cost of safety, while conservative securitarian may be eager to forfeit freedom to increase security. The name "conservative" comes from the fact that such people did not wanted to change their values but rather tried to find new applications for them.
The original labyrinth (λαβύρινθοςromanization labúrinthos) of Greek Mythology was a very complex maze; hence the use of a thread to find the way out. But the term shifted to describe what began as an illustration of the myth: a figure consisting of a twisty but unbranched path, such as appears on the floor of many old churches.
Proletarian originally meant "people whose only value to the state is producing offspring". In (Marxian) economics, it means "one who does not own the means of production but labors for one who does, while retaining political liberty". It does not mean "working class" or "blue-collar" — most airline pilots are proletarians; many taxi drivers are not.
If does not mean the same thing as "whether". "Ask your doctor if this drug is right for you," means you should inquire about getting a prescription if you determine that you should.note For all you grammarians, yes, there should be a comma after "doctor", but that changes the typical reading of that sentence. Please, ask your doctor whether this drug is right for you. However, examples of this usage go all the way back to Beowulf.
Whence, thence, and hence, mean, respectively, "from where", "from there", and "from here". Thus, using any of those words with the word "from" is redundant. They were sometimes used with "from", but mostly for emphasis, e.g. "Where are you from?" or "There is where he's from."
However, the phrase "from whence" appears in the King James Bible.
This phenomenon, which also occurs in the Book of Common Prayer in forms such as the double plurals "seraphims" and "cherubims", is probably because of the translators' fears that the "correct" language would not be understood by the illiterate masses, and so various slightly odd turns of phrase emerge.
In case you were wondering, the potential singular and plural forms are as follows: one seraph/cherub; two seraphs/seraphim/seraphin/cherubs/cherubim/cherubin. "Seraphims" and "cherubims" are right out.
Mayhem is commonly used to mean chaos and disorder, but the original, and legal, definition is the act of maiming. People misinterpreted the word from phrases like "violence and mayhem", and the definition stuck.
Succulent, because of its frequent use in the culinary arts, is often assumed by the layman to mean "tasty", when, in fact, it means "juicy". For example, milkweed is a very succulent plant, but eating it is not recommended. (Unless you're a monarch butterfly. And if you're reading this page, then you are not.note Unless you're just dreaming about reading the page.)
There's even an entire botanical clade known as Succulent Plants. They are so named for their ability to retain water in arid conditions.
Orthodoxy: While orthodox has taken on the meaning of "traditional", particularly in matters of faith, the term originally meant something more like "right opinion". The word literally derives from the Greek words ὀρθόςromanization orthos, meaning "right/correct", and δόξαromanization doxa, meaning "opinion/to think/praise". Presumedly, the connotations of "traditional", "established", or "backwards" came relatively recently, as people who self-identify as "orthodox" also tend to reject more modern predilections towards reform and progressivism.
Under the original definition, "political correctness" would be a type of orthodoxy (whether or not it is the norm in your area): there are certain beliefs that are deemed proper to hold about, say, women; and certain beliefs that are not. Indeed, Holocaust deniers are, under this sense of the word, unorthodox.
Accuracy and precision are not the same thing. "Accuracy" is how close to the target one is, "precision" is how close together one's shots are. If one were to shoot at a circular target and all of the shots hit the outermost ring, but are grouped very closely together, then one is very precise but not very accurate.
Similarly, accuracy and precision are often confused when describing the merits of a firearm - they are often described as accurate when the correct word would be precise. Only a human operator can make the firearm accurate; a firearm is precise when it can consistently place shots in a predictable location.
The distinction is extremely important in the hard sciences: precision is the specificity of a measurement (in practice, the number of decimal places in the value), while accuracy is the degree to which it is correct. To claim that a kilogram of iron has a mass of 70.0000000000000000000000000000001 grams is very precise, and not at all accurate.
Bestiality is any sexual act considered "bestial", including incest or sodomy. Intercourse with animals specifically is zoophilia.
"Sodomy" itself is a very vague term, as it's not exactly clear what the "sin of Sodom" originally was. (In The Bible Sodom is associated with a number of sins, some of them non-sexual, such as inhospitality and cruelty to the poor.) Nowadays the term is commonly understood to mean "anal intercourse", but in law, it can mean a variety of purportedly deviant practices.
Fantastic, most commonly used to mean "great" or "cool", literally means "the stuff of fantasy". Thus, Mordor is every bit as "fantastic" as Rivendell. Its change from original meaning to the current usage came about the same way as "incredible" and "unbelievable" came to mean something like "amazing". Interestingly enough, the Coolio song "Fantastic Voyage" uses the word in its classical sense, as do some of our Speculative Fiction Tropes.
[Word]oholic is frequently misused to describe how you are addicted to [word] (such as being a self-proclaimed rageoholic if you are addicted to rage). If you are a rageoholic, you are addicted to rageohol, not rage.
Homer Simpson actually uses this correctly, exclaiming "I'm a rageoholic! I just can't live without rageohol!", in the episode "I am Furious (Yellow)".
A meme is a unit of cultural ideas, symbols or practices, which can be transmitted between people through communication. The word was coined by Richard Dawkins, and he gave examples of melodies, catch-phrases, beliefs (such as religionsnote Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen argue that something as complex as a whole religion isn't just a single meme, but what they call a memeplex), clothing fashion, and the technology of building arches. Therefore, while a funny picture such as Longcat is an example of a meme, the word meme does not mean just "a funny picture".
Stoicism was originally a philosophy that held as a central tenet that extreme emotions should be overcome and prevented. It now means the repression of emotions, shorn of other parts of the philosophy. While someone who is stoical may be so because of an emotional disorder, it may just be a way of handling one particular occurrence.
Cynicism for that matter, as often used in this website is actually less concerned with the contrast with idealism, and more to live life without falsehood (both in personal character, and by not chasing after things of false importance such as wealth, power, success, and fame). The classical Cynics were more like ascetics, living simply (much like the Stoics later would). The word means "dog-like" which to large portion fits, because dogs are known for doing certain things without any guilt or remorse.
There are four reasons why the Cynics are so named. First because of the indifference of their way of life, for they make a cult of indifference and, like dogs, eat and make love in public, go barefoot, and sleep in tubs and at crossroads. The second reason is that the dog is a shameless animal, and they make a cult of shamelessness, not as being beneath modesty, but as superior to it. The third reason is that the dog is a good guard, and they guard the tenets of their philosophy. The fourth reason is that the dog is a discriminating animal which can distinguish between its friends and enemies.
An android is something 'man-like', not necessarily a robot. A shop mannequin is an android, and so would be a hobbit. In some works of Speculative Fiction it means "humanoid robot", in others "robot that resembles a human", in yet others "organic Artificial Human".
The proper term for a female man-like robot is gynoid - "woman-like". In this sense the words are still used in context of obesity.
Destiny was generally defined as an inevitable, unalterable future event. Language has shifted enough such that it is now more generally known, even in many dictionaries, as a generalized word for forthcoming events, making phrases such as "changing one's destiny" retroactively correct.
Doom is another word for "destiny" or "fate". It doesn't have to be bad.
And Doomsday is referring to judgement, not to destruction. (See William The Conquerer's "Domesday Book", which was basically a census of his new realm.)
To culinary professionals, savory now means containing a particular taste sensation, also known as umami, created by glutamic acid (popularly known as monosodium glutamate, or MSG). It can also mean any food which is particularly spiced or salted, as opposed to sweet. However, the original meaning was that still used by most people — any particularly pleasing meal that makes the mouth water in anticipation. The modern meaning came about because glutamic acid creates a mouth-watering sensation after eating, similar to the anticipation.
Decadent is sometimes thought to mean "luxurious". It actually means "falling into an inferior condition", and is nearly synonymous with "degenerate". The common conception is perhaps given to us through the image of the "decadently" wealthy in some common ideas and some historical examples, which doesn't refer to a lavish lifestyle that we would expect, but probably the sort of mentality that encourages inbreeding and jealous paranoia.
The word awful used to mean "deserving of awe" (i.e. "awe-full"), and was originally a good thing to call something. In modern times, the word "awesome" has suffered the same fate, having the same meaning as "awful" originally did (i.e. something that is deserving of awe, something that people are awed by), but nowadays it is frequently used to mean "cool" or "impressive".
Artificial originally meant "full of skilled artifice" (i.e. constructed expertly), rather than just "something constructed by humans in imitation of something natural".
The meaning of boat is highly variable. On the Great Lakes, any vessel that floats on the surface of the water is a boat — from the smallest rowboat to the largest thousand-footer. Visiting oceanic vessels are called "salties". Also, in naval use, a boat is any watercraft small enough to be taken aboard a larger ship. The use of "boat" for a submarine — the largest of which are the size of old battleships — comes from the origin of the type: when military submarines started appearing in numbers in the late 1800s, they were classified as "submarine torpedo boats" — i.e. underwater torpedo boats.
Related to the submarine example, any ship or craft regardless of size that uses only one weapon or one system is sometimes called a [weapon name] boat. For example, a craft that has nothing but missiles for weapons may be called a missile boat.
Mystic and mystical are not synonyms. "Mystic" means "of hidden or symbolic meaning, especially in religion". "Mystical" means "of mystics or mysticism". "The mystic crystal ball" is correct; "the mystical crystal ball" is not, unless the aforesaid crystal ball is used by mystics. Technically, "mystical" also means "having spiritual meaning, value, or symbolism", so the crystal ball could be called "mystical" if it had spiritual value.
Eke out. If Jane Austen says "the vicar ekes out a meager living by beekeeping", she doesn't mean he lives on nothing but the pittance that the bees bring him, she means the beekeeping supplements his inadequate stipend. ("Eke" is still occasionally used to mean "also".)
Strictly speaking extra means "outside of", not "on top of" or "more of it". This is why "extraordinary" makes sense. "Extralegal" means outside the realm of legality (i.e. illegal), not something that is especially legal over and above the usual definition. "Extraterrestrial" (outside of Earth; from another planet) is probably most recognizable by the majority of people in its correct meaning thanks to Steven Spielberg's film.
An acronym is an initialism which forms a word, such as "laser" (light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation), or "amphetamine" (alpha-methyl-phenethylamine).note An initialism does not need to be composed entirely of initials; it can contain word fragments or whole words. See The Other Wiki for more information. This distinction is commonly ignored; The BBC and The Guardian are just two mainstream media outlets who are happy to use "acronym" as though it were synonymous with "initialism".
Due is an adjective, and needs a noun to modify. In the sentence "There is chaos due to misunderstandings," "due" modifies "chaos", not the whole clause "there is chaos". Thus, some of hyper-pedants would prefer that "due to" not be used in place of "because of".
Similarly, as such needs a precedent noun. "I am an adult citizen of this republic and as such have the right to vote in its elections": "such" means "such a person", i.e. "an adult citizen". "As such" is not a fancy synonym for "thus" or "therefore".
Shoujo-ai (少女愛hiragana しょうじょあい) and Shounen-ai (少年愛hiragana しょうねんあい) are used in the West to mean same-sex romance between girls and boys, respectively. One had better not use those words in Japan, where they refer to the love of children. Their English equivalents would be "girl love" and "boy love", which themselves shouldn't be confused with the Gratuitous English terms "girls' love" and "boys' love", which the Japanese use to refer to.... yuri and yaoi. Yes, this is quite the coincidence.
When a person is cremated, what their relatives get back are actually called cremains (as in "cremated remains"), although this word was apparently coined in the mid-1950s by funeral directors who wished to avoid the word "ashes".note The earliest known use in writing is from Time magazine in 1954. Ashes are the remains of incompletely-consumed combustible material; what is returned to the family following a cremation are the ashes and pulverized fragments of incompletely combusted bones. In any work created prior to 1954, "ashes" would be completely correct.
An extravaganza is a literary or musical work (often musical theatre) characterized by freedom of style and structure and usually containing elements of burlesque, pantomime, music hall and parody. It may more broadly refer to an elaborate, spectacular, and expensive theatrical production. It is not a party, however lavish the party may be.
People often use the terms First World, Second World and Third World as though they refer specifically to levels of development. This is not quite correct. The terms were originally coined during the Cold War to describe the three main geopolitical alignments of the time — that is to say, America and its allies (the First World), the Communist nations (the Second World) and those aligned with neither (the Third World). Admittedly, the Third World had from the very beginning connotations of low development and high poverty, whilst the eventual triumph of capitalism over communism as an economic system led to (generally) higher standards of living in the First World than in the Second World, but it should be remembered that these factors were coincidental, not definitive, and arguably, since the end of the Cold War, all three have become defunct, even though they're still used for more euphemistic equivalents of terms like GEDC and LEDC (Greater and Lesser Economically Developed Country, respectively).
The first usage of the term Third World was a direct reference to the "third state" (tiers état) of France before the revolution, with the idea being that it was a group of countries that had no voice in international decisions concerning them. The author didn't coin the terms "First World" or "Second World" though, given that they would have made little sense in the analogy. (The staunchly antitheistic U.S.S.R. was the religious class?) As such, it does not refer to underdeveloped countries or countries with low standards of living, but states with limited geopolitical clout, and therefore states like Lithuania and Peru fill the bill, whilst Egypt and India do not.
For the uncertain, the currently favored terminology is (Global) North and (Global) South, with the South being the less-developed countries, and the North being the others. It's not a strict division along geographic lines: Australia and South Korea are firmly in the North, whilst China and North Korea are in the South.
Football, despite what some people say, is a perfectly legitimate name for American football, not just the international name for what Americans call soccer. Those sports are not called football because a ball is kicked around with the feet, but because they're played on foot (as opposed to, say, polo, which is played on horseback).
To elaborate, in the 19th century, kids played their own versions of football however they felt like it. But soon after, there was a call in England for standardizing the rules of football, which of course led to lots of arguing. In the end the arguers settled on two games: rugby football and association football, which Americans call soccer. Not long after, other organized sports based on these two as well as others were formed (Australian Rules Football, American Football, Gaelic Football, etc.) and all of these "football" sports have since gained a foothold in sports culture. Of course, since there are quite a few sports that claim the name football, many of these arguments continue on to this very day.
I could care less. On the surface, it may imply that there is the chance that the speaker truly does care, and a more grammatically accurate phrase is I couldn't/can't care less. It could also be, and generally is, used with built-in irony, or possibly sarcasm, as if to offer "I could care less if you really wanted me to, but for now I'll just stick with the level of not caring I'm at now."
See also Separated by a Common Language: "I could care less" is the standard in the US, whereas other English-speaking countries generally use "I couldn't care less".
Frozen refers to a substance in the solid phase of matter. It does not have to do with cold temperatures. A rock is frozen, unless of course it is lava. Liquid nitrogen, on the other hand, is not frozen, despite the fact that it is cold. Freezing is the inverse process of melting, so dry ice is not frozen either. It is deposited carbon dioxide. Similarly, boiling just means that a substance in in the gaseous phase. Air is boiling, unless it is in a Dewar flask at cryogenic temperatures. Lava is not. As boiling is the inverse process of condensation, neither is carbon dioxide. It is sublimated. Evaporation refers specifically to vaporization occurring below a substance's boiling point.
In the original meaning of the term freeze meant to burn like burning coals. Technically anything that is frozen is burned either by fire, by the friction in wind, by chemicals or by cold.
Lust can colloquially just mean "generic sexual desire", but its classical theological definition is "the vice of excessive sexual act". So, first of all, as a vice, it has to be habitual (i.e. committing adultery on one occasion but never considering it before or after is technically not "lust", but still vicious and qualifies as a mortal sin according to the Catholic Church). Secondly, it needs to be excessive, so simply desiring to have sexual intercourse isn't lust, or even wrong; only if one continually and intentionally dwells on sexual thoughts or continually and intentionally performs sexual acts can it be called "lust". This is further complicated because there is another, more archaic and almost never used sense of the word "lust", which is "to treat human beings as tools without giving them the proper dignity they deserve as humans". This sense of the word "lust" would apply to a man who has intercourse with a popular woman in order to gain social status; one can think of it as being related in that his sexual drive is perverted (i.e. misused) because he uses sex for something besides procreation.
Meta-. Ever since metacrawler the prefix "meta-" has been used to denote an aggregation (like in metacritic) when it is supposed to be used to denote a definition or something that goes beyond the original intent, e.g. metaphysics goes beyond traditional physics, metadata is data that defines the data, metacrawler is a search engine that crawls the HTML Meta tags on websites that are supposed to be used for defining what content is on your page. If used properly, metacritic would be a site devoted to critiquing the critics or even be a site like This Wiki, not an aggregation of critical reviews.
Egonote simply means "I" in Latin, when used alongside terms like id, is often assumed to be its opposite. In fact, according to Sigmund Freud, the counterpart to "id" (basically, all your instincts and raw desires) is the superego (the critical, moral part of the mind). The "ego" acts as the mediator between the two, bringing Real Life into the mix. Crossword puzzles appear to be the most likely culprits here.
Nakama (仲間hiragana なかま) means "friend", "comrade" or "colleague" in Japanese. If you were to stop a random Japanese person on the street of Osaka and ask, "Could you define the word 'nakama' for me?", the response wouldn't be "a group of friends who are as close as family", or "a group of friends that are closer than family". On the contrary, the response would simply be "friend", with none of the deeper connotations that people here on TV Tropes have ascribed to it. (Or at least, did, before the trope name was changed.) This incorrect use of the term originated in One Piece fandom, though even there, only a small percentage of the One Piece fans insist that the word means anything more than just "friends".
仲間 and 友達 are not synonymous. 友達 is closer to the English "friend", referring to someone you consider an equal who is close to you, who you play, talk, and hang out with. 仲間 is more like "comrade", referring to someone who works with you in doing something, or is part of the same group. The two words are contrasted with some frequency.
A Japanese person, asked to explain the difference, might say that 友達 is closer to 親友hiragana しんゆうromaji shin'yū (basically best friend) and 仲間 is closer to 同志hiragana どうしromaji dōshi (literally "same interests", and used as "comrade" by political ideologues like Marxists)—because practically every word in Japanese that's of native origin can be said in Sino-Japanese with slightly different connotations, much like how English can say both "Gallic manufacture" and "French handiwork".
Moot comes from the Old English word for a meeting, wherein important issues were discussed. A moot subject was one deserving serious debate, not something of little or no relevance. The current usage comes from a corruption of "mooted"; a "mooted" thing means something previously debated, i.e., a settled thing. This has been settled usage for so long, though, that even the law courts use it; lawyers and judges are famously pedantic, so this is no small thing.
Titular means "nominal" — a "titular monarch", for example, being the figurehead ruler of a country whose real power lies in elected officials. The word for "being the character or thing a work is named after" is eponymous. You probably meant to say "title character of X", which is equally as valid as "eponymous".
A PC is an abbreviation of the term Personal Computer, not a computer that uses Windows software or hardware. A Macintosh computer, which uses Apple software and hardware is also a PC, as it is a Personal Computer. This is not in the least bit helped by the semantically deceptive "Mac vs PC" ad campaigns that promote this misuse.
Likewise, a computer using Linux is a PC that happens to use Linux as its operating system.
The term existed originally to differentiate Personal Computers from the room-sized computers used by large organizations, and also from terminals, which resemble personal computers but are only access points to a separate, centralized computer.
The common usage of the term comes from the IBM-PC, a computer from the early 1980s. Later computers in the same style branded themselves as "PC compatible", with software for the line being marketed for "PCs or compatible computers". The term PC coming to refer to any (PC-compatible) computer is a case of Brand Name Takeover.
Electricity refers only to a "quantity of electricity", that is, an electric charge. It does not refer to anything which can take the adjective "electric", such as electromagnetic radiation (which is what most people mean when they say "electricity") electric energy, or electronics. It has gotten to the point where physicists no longer use the term "electricity" in scientific publications, because the colloquial usage is ambiguous, although they still use "electric" and "electrical" as adjectives (e.g.: that which we most commonly call "electricity," powering our light bulbs and computers and everything in between, is called "electric[al] current").
Chauvinism originally meant extreme patriotism and nationalism, and the belief in one nation's superiority over others. It has since evolved to mean a belief in the superiority of a specific group of people (not necessarily a nation) over other groups. One example of such is male chauvinism, which is probably the most common meaning today. The term is also often confused with sexism, which is prejudice and discrimination based on sex.
Computer originally comes from the verb "to compute", which means to calculate. In the early twentieth century, people who calculated the exact time were called computers. The meaning the word has today is derived from this, as computers were originally built to calculate mathematical equations.
On the lowest level, that's all a computer does, even today. Browsing the web, playing an ego shooter, or writing texts in a word processor ultimately amounts to nothing but basic mathematics plus the copying of data — plus conditional jumps, which again amount to the calculation of an address, and setting some data accordingly. On top of that, it's layers upon layers of abstraction.
Cutpurse is, today, used in Epic Fantasy as a synonym for either "pickpocket" or "mugger". In fact, a cutpurse is neither. A purse, in this context, is a small pouch, hung from a belt, which would normally hold coins or valuables. A cutpurse would cut the strings or straps attaching the purse to the belt, and take the entire purse. Alternatively, a cutpurse would cut the bottom of the purse open and steal the contents that way. A pickpocket, (called a "dip" in medieval times) would take objects out of the purse without tampering with it, and a mugger would threaten or beat the victim until he handed over the purse.
Modern cutpurses still exist. They are thieves who remove items from pocket by making a slice under the object like wallet (specially one worn in the inner pocket) and allowing the gravity to help them in the task.
Armageddon and Apocalypse are not the same thing. Apocalypse, literally, simply means "revelation", but since the biblical Book of Revelation (also known as the Apocalypse of John) is mostly concerned with the end of the world, that is what "apocalypse" has come to mean. Armageddon, on the other hand, means "the mountain of Megiddo", where the final battle between good and evil will take place according to the Book of Revelation. The correct fancy word to use when discussing The End of the World as We Know It is eschaton (the branch of theology concerning itself with the end times is hence called eschatology).
Viking is not a demonymnote a word that denotes an ethnic group but a name of profession. People most commonly described as such were in fact Norse or Norsemen (Danes, Swedes, and Norwegians). The word víking (it's the feminine form, by the way) means "journey" or "raid", so a víkingr (the masculine form) was a person who was taking part in mercantile voyages or raids. Prior to the ninth century it usually meant "seaman" or "merchant", but later it gravitated towards the rough part of the trade, meaning "pirate" or "raider". In other words, Norse craftsmen, workers or skalds were not vikings, even if they were capable warriors themselves.
Shrapnel refers to a very specific type of artillery shell: one that bursts open in flight to shower the target area with projectiles, invented by Major General Henry Shrapnel. A normal explosive produces fragments, not shrapnel.
Actors may complain their agents decimate their salary — and would be technically correct!
A BBC game show called Decimate is due to air in 2014 and uses the word in the sense of "reduce by one tenth" (in this instance, reducing the prize fund by that proportion). It remains to be seen whether this will result in a revival of that definition.
An alicorn is the horn of a unicorn, or to be more specific, the substance from which the horn is made. It was believed to have healing powers as early as the 13th century. However, starting with the novels of Piers Anthony (And popularized even further by the massive Periphery Demographic of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic), it has come to mean "winged unicorn".
As defined by the man himself, Sturgeon's Law states that "Nothing is always absolutely so", that is to say that every rule has exceptions. The claim that ninety percent of everything is crud is more properly termed "Sturgeon's Revelation", but nobody ever cites it as that, not even This Wiki.
For that matter, most Internet adages, particularly Finagle's Law (which is almost always confused for Murphy's Law) and Poe's Law, are often invoked with a subtly different meaning than originally intended.
Exception: For that matter, asking an official to "make an exception" for you is a misnomer because exceptions are already written into the law itself. However, the one enforcing it may make a derogation for you, and is sometimes legally empowered to do so.
Datum: Originally, "data" was a plural count noun referring to multiple items of recorded information. A single such item was a datum. However, sometime in the 1960s or so (basically, concurrent with the rise of computers) the usage shifted so that "data" is a mass noun. So now it's much more common to say "the data is" and "this data point is" rather than "the data are" and "this datum is". Many modern style guides not only accept but mandate this usage. Nonetheless, it still drives some people up a wall.
Culture Shock was originally a term describing a situation where either two cultures with vastly different levels of technology meet, or an isolated culture is exposed to a much larger community (for instance, humanity making contact with another alien species for the first time, or Japan's centuries of isolationism under the Tokugawa Shogunate ending) For instance, the Native Americans meeting the New World explorers and later pioneers is a valid case of culture shock. This is also the term that was used in 2001: A Space Odyssey to describe why the US Government kept the knowledge of the Monolith secret at first. The much more mundane meaning of the word (an individual adjusting to life in a different culture) has completely replaced the original meaning of the word.
Modern in history refers to the period after Middle Ages which is still on-going. So "modern" technically could mean anything from renaissance to some time in the future. In arts, modernism refers to the movement in the late 1800's and early 1900's, hence why we already have "postmodern" art, literally "after-modern". Obviously the common meaning is perfectly acceptable but if you do want to avoid it, words like "current" or "present" should work. "Contemporary" on the other hand has its own problems as mentioned in Moderately Pedantic.
Crucifix is a depiction of a crucified Christ (hence the name), usually sculpted (but also painted or engraved). The cross without the depiction of Christ is not a crucifix, but simply a 'cross'.
Sorcerer is a word which at its roots means caster of lots. It does not mean witchcraft or spellcasting. Furthermore, the practice of casting lots is praised in the ancient Hebrew Old Testament.
Alien used to refer to anyone or anything not native to a country. (For example, a Mexican in America could be called an alien.) Hence the phrase "outer space alien", meaning the being isn't native to Earth. However, the meaning has been muddled up over the years, so that whenever you mention the term "alien" people will automatically think of the outer space kind, and will give you very strange looks when you call a Mexican an "alien" (unless you add "illegal").
Polarize means to cause something to acquire polarity; very polarizing is descriptive of a Broken Base. It's not descriptive of a unanimous or unilateral opinion within a group of people. If something drives a wedge through group consensus and leaves them with opposing opinions, that's polarizing. If it leaves everyone with the same opinion, it's the opposite of polarizing.
Most people think Epitome means the "perfect" example of something. Calling for example, a villain "the epitome of evil" It really just means a typical example of something, not the most extreme example.