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. In regards to this wiki, see Square Peg, Round Trope.
- The premise of the title track on Bill Engvall's Now That's Awesome album is how the word "awesome" should be restored to its original meaning of leaving someone in awe and wonder. He goes on to cite several examples, such as "winning the lottery twice", women discovering that men can now experience childbirth, or meeting Shania Twain Naked in Mink "holding a note from my wife that said 'Have a good time.'"
Bill: It ain't gonna happen. But that would be awesome.
- 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.
- 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.
- Familiar Evil: Dr. Kenner proclaims that his insane experiments are all to create a vaccine to cure the zombie outbreak, leading Saito to angrily point out that vaccines don't work like that. As it turns out, Kenner does know that the correct term is "viral suppressant", but he doesn't really care about getting the terminology right since most people don't know the difference.
- The Princess Bride is the Trope Namer. Vizzini repeatedly thunders "Inconceivable!" whenever his plan goes awry, making Inigo confused. Inigo might be splitting hairs about how the events transpiring are technically able to be conceived of. However, Inigo might instead interpret that Vizzini is using the word as a curse, which would conflict with the thick-accented Spaniard's understanding of its definition.
- Played for Laughs in Spider-Man when Peter chastises J. Jonah Jameson for writing a trashy article about Spider-Man that slanders ol' Web Head as some kind of menace:
Peter: Spider-Man wasn't trying to attack the city, he was trying to save it. That's slander.
J.J.: It is not. I resent that. Slander is spoken. In print, it's libel.
- 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...
Charlie: It's awesome!
- In the first episode of The Boys, 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 Britain.
- 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.
- Real Time with Bill Maher: Maher's editorial of October 30, 2021 was a rant against people from his own side (i.e. leftwingers) continually redefining words such as "hate", "victim", "hero", "shame", "violence", "survivor", "phobic", and "white supremacy" in an attempt to rewrite reality.
Maher: Word inflation is a problem. You can try to change reality by changing the words, but you can't. It just stops you from dealing with it.
- 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, so it was hardly the Badass Boast she was going for.
- On the game show Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?, one of the questions was about what a prime number is. The children in the "classroom" wrote down their answers and then the adult contestant started answering that prime number is the rate which forms the basis of the amount a lending institution uses to set the interest rate for a loan. The children, after some confused looks, started laughing in their seats. The contestant had confused "prime number" with "prime lending rate."
- Discworld: After Annagramma Hawkin spends her entire presence in A Hat Full of Sky using the word "literally" figuratively, Tiffany pleads her to learn what it means.
- The Lieutenant of Inishmore:
Davey: Them facts are only circumstantial.
Padraic: These guns are only circumstantial, so, and so too your brains'll be only circumstantial as they leave your heads and go skidding up the wall.
- 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.
- The term "port" tends to be misused in gaming circles, often conflating it to refer to versions which do not share the same code and/or assets with the original platform release.
- Most everything Riddler does in the Batman: Arkham Series.
Catwoman: Damn him! How is that a riddle, Eddie? Seriously?!
- He keeps calling his various challenges "riddles", but very few of them qualify, even by a very generous definition of the word. While he does ask actual riddles in each game, the majority of the challenges he sets to Batman are tests of physicality, puzzle-solving, death traps, and scavenger hunts to find Riddler trophies. This is treated as in-universe Motive Decay in Arkham Knight, where his challenges are car races; while a few of them do have a small element of puzzle-solving and quick-thinking, they're certainly not riddles, and it's unclear how Batman's inability to complete them would prove the Riddler is intellectually superior to him. Even his final boss battle is a pure physical task, where Batman fights waves of robots and the Riddler in a mech suit. He claims that the fact he built and programmed these devices to kill Batman would make it an "intellectual victory above all else", but that isn't a riddle either. Catwoman calls him out on it in the last of her challenges, after avoiding sweeping sawblades:
Batman: You get used to it.
[a little later]
Catwoman: It's still not a riddle, Eddie!
- Batman's Joker hallucination lampshades it as well.
"You know, Riddler's trials are fun, Bats, but I really want to be there when he finds out what a riddle actually is."
- To the Moon: In Act II of Finding Paradise, Potato says that Colin once "literally" beat up Amber for her. She then asks her mother if that's the right word, but she corrects her, saying that she meant "figuratively".
- 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.
- 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. The TGS universe being what it is, she promptly gets run over by a Formula 1 race-car... being driven by a fork.
- Ask a Pony: One Tumblr pony drops the whole line in response when an 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.
- Batman and Harley Quinn: Harley is annoyed at the fact people (such as Batman) call sociopaths "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.