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You Keep Using That Word

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"You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."
Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride, on Vizzini's use of the word "inconceivable".

People sometimes misuse words. If another person in the work corrects this misuse, then it tells the audience that something is wrong with the way the first character uses words in general.

The character doing the correcting might range from doing so out of habit, to seeking clarification on the other person's meaning, or maybe they just don't like their native language being abused.

The character making the mistake can do so for many reasons. A non-exhaustive list includes hyperbole, an inflated estimation of their own vocabulary, trouble with idiomatic vocabulary, or is speaking a foreign language.

Compare Personal Dictionary, where either character has a different opinion on what a word might mean, and Insistent Terminology, when a character insists on using a particular term and corrects others. Contrast Buffy Speak (the character doesn't know the "right" words, so they just jam similar-enough words together in hopes the other character understands), Have a Gay Old Time (where the meaning of words shift over time), Neologism (the meaning is unclear because the word is new), and Perfectly Cromulent Word (a word is unfamiliar, but used correctly). For a list of words that tend to cause this reaction, see Commonly Misused Words.



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    Comic Books 
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (IDW): Howard Lillja is extremely fond of the word "obtruse." While it is a legitimate English word, he's constantly using it in the wrong form. Neither Donatello nor Angel ever seem able to convince him that he's using it wrong.
  • X-Factor (2006): Valeria Richards would like you to know that the Invisible Woman vanishing is not ironic. It's whimsical, at best.

    Comic Strips 
  • Candorville: Lemont will frequently interrupt strangers' conversations to correct their grammar, much to their displeasure, or miss the point of something entirely because of one misused word. A flashback shows that he's done this since childhood, ignoring An Aesop because of his mom's poor grammar. Currently he's got enough foresight to NOT correct his college crush's grammar, but not the judge overseeing his custody case (he thinks knowing law lingo is endearing).

  • Neither a Bird nor a Plane, it's Deku!: While playing the part of a Villain, Tenya shouts "Inconceivable!" so many times that Uraraka wonders if he knows what it actually means.
  • In The New Adventures of Invader Zim, Norlock calls Slab Rankle out on his repeated usage of the word "punk".
  • Peeking Through the Fourth Wall:
    • In episode 17 ("Luck"), the fic's constant insistence on referring to Luna as Lincoln's "guardian" wears on the quartet of authors until That Engineer finally snaps towards the end.
    • In "Diary of Luan Loud", the Louds point out that Fic!Luan is described as "psycho", when "evil" would be a better word.
    • In "The Diary of a Loud", Luan wonders if the author even knows what a joke is after Fic!Lynn says, "I don't get the joke" as a response to Fic!Lucy saying something that wasn't a joke, and Fic!Lola laughs at her own nonexistent joke.

  • The Princess Bride is the Trope Namer. Vizzini repeatedly uses "inconceivable", meaning impossible to imagine, to refer to things that are simply improbable or unfortunate, until Inigo Montoya finally calls him out on it. Technically, Vizzini is using hyperbole rather than outright misusing it, but his use implies a lack of imagination more than the craziness of the situation.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Arrested Development, it quickly becomes clear to the Bluth family that Michael is the only one with enough intelligence and sense to run the family business, and so they invite him over for an "intervention":
    Michael: I'm sorry, what exactly is this intervention for?
    (a moment of awkward silence)
    Lucille: We need you to come back and run the business!
    Michael: Oh, okay. Well, then, so, technically it's not really an "intervention". It's a little bit more of an imposition, if you think about it.
    Lindsay: Oh, whatever you wanna call it!
    Michael: I'd love to call it an "imposition".
  • Subverted in It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia: Mac keeps calling everyone a jabroni.
    Charlie: You keep using that word...
    Mac: And?
    Charlie: It's awesome!
  • In the first episode of The Boys (2019), Butcher criticizes Translucent's superhero name:
    Butcher: "Translucent" doesn't even mean "invisible." It means "semi-transparent."
  • Hell's Kitchen:
    • During the "make your own menu" dinner service, Season 5's Ben insisted on making some potato dish he called "pomme fondant". At service, Gordon pointed out that pommes fondant is a French dish consisting of mashed potatoes cooked in butter, which Ben's dish was not. Later on he invoked this kind of reaction by repeatedly getting a "plain salad" wrong, causing Gordon to turn to Sous Chef Scott to make sure that the term means the same thing in America that it does in England.
    • Worse was Season 3's Brad, who during the same challenge suggested they make fancy macaroni and cheese and call it cassoulet; the other men pointed out, to his face, that that's not what a cassoulet is note , and he replied, "Well, let's just call it that."
    • In season 17, Michelle was strongly encouraged to refer to her dish for an Italian food challenge as a tortellini rather than a dumpling or a pot sticker. Her teammates caught her referring to it as a dumpling multiple times while cooking and corrected her, Thankfully by the time she was presenting her food, she had corrected that error and not only had one of the top scoring dishes of the challenge, but had her dish on the menu for the next dinner service.
  • The New Adventures of Old Christine: When old Christine kept bringing up how she thought she was racist she was told not to use the word until she learns what it means.
  • When Gia made her entrance in Season 6 of of RuPaul's Drag Race, she called herself "fresh tilapia." As Sharon Needles pointed out in the season recap episode (and Bianca would later point out), that's normally the cheapest fish in the store, and it was hardly the Badass Boast she was going for.

    Video Games 
  • Fire Emblem Awakening: In Brady's support with Owain, Owain points out that Brady keeps using the word "sentimental" without really knowing what it means.

    Visual Novels 
  • Ace Attorney: At one point, Jacques Portsman claims that there is a "mountain of evidence" pointing away from him. If you press him on this point, however, it turns out his "mountain of evidence" isn't really evidence at all; simply a claim regarding his supposed lack of motive. If an attorney or Edgeworth tried to pull that kind of baloney in court, they would have gotten penalized. Especially bad because Portsman should know what the word means; he is a prosecutor, after all. Edgeworth calls him out on this:
    Edgeworth: ...Might I recommend that you review what the word "evidence" means.

    Web Animation 
  • Homestar Runner:
    • In the Strongbad Email "secret identity", Strong Bad and various other characters keep talking about "pseudonames". At the end, a hyperactive Strong Sad bursts in and yells that the correct word is "pseudonym".
    • In Teen Girl Squad issue #12, the girls spend the whole episode talking about "Valentimes Day". So-and-So, the most academically adept one, finally snaps and yells that it's ValenTINE'S Day.

    Web Original 
  • Ask a Pony: One tumblr pony drops the whole line in response when anonymous calls him autistic for creating an ask blog specifically about a pony with human genitalia.
  • Loreweaver Universe: From Secret Team.
    Loreweaver: "Steven I think you may have had a serious misunderstanding about the nature of a secret"

  • Homestuck: Dirk calls Caliborn out on using the word "ironic" to characterize his enjoyment of observing human love and romance, when it's clearly more of a weird Fetish.

    Western Animation 
  • Batman and Harley Quinn: Harley is annoyed at the fact people (such as Batman) call sociopaths as "psychopaths".
  • Ben 10: Omniverse had Ben face an alien who wants to promote peace. Unfortunately, the villain does this while wreaking havoc on the city. Ben eventually called him out with this, word-for-word.

You keep using that word, I don't think it means what you've become accustomed to define it as.

Alternative Title(s): Term Confusion, You Keep Saying That Word


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