Follow TV Tropes

Following

You Keep Using That Word / A To G

Go To

A

  • Abstinence is a willing choice not to engage in some activity—such as, for example, sexual abstinence (which might range from "doing everything but intercourse" to much stricter levels of abstinence, like refraining from masturbation and from sexual contact with others). Celibacy originally meant simply "being unmarried", but now generally means being unmarried and sexually abstinent.
  • 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.
    • Advertisement:
    • 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.
  • 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  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".
  • Addict in adjective form is "addictive". However, clumsy attempts to mangle it into this form tend to fall to "addicting" instead, which is actually a gerund (which is a noun) or even a verb, but not an adjective. To put it simply, if you were to say "Cocaine is addicting" you would be implying that cocaine is, right now, in the process of getting someone addicted. While that may be true it's probably not what the speaker actually meant to say.
      Advertisement:
    • In technical medical terms, "addictive" refers only to substances which, when their use by a habitual users is discontinued, result in physical withdrawal symptoms. Thus you get people insisting that things like marijuana and MMOs are not "addictive," which is technically true for a given definition of "addictive," but does not address the more realistic concern that they might be habit-forming to an unhealthy degree in some users.
    • Even more confusingly, there is a distinction sometimes made between addiction and dependence. Addiction here means that you have cravings for something if deprived of it; dependence means that you will have withdrawal symptoms; but being dependent on something (like a medication) does not necessarily mean you are addicted to it, and being addicted to something does not mean you are dependent on it (note this is almost the opposite of the definition above). For example, a diabetic is dependent on insulin, but not addicted to it.
  • "Affect" and "effect": In general terms, "effect" is usually a noun and "affect" is usually a verb. However, there are actually five words there, not two.
      Advertisement:
    • af-FECT (v) - To have influence on. "The heavy rains affected the water level."
    • af-FECT (v) - To pretend, often to pretend to have a degree of sophistication. "At the wine club, Bob affected a fake French accent to be a douche."
      • This is also the base word of "affectation," or a behavior adopted to evoke that air of sophistication. "Even though Bob is from America, he crosses his 7s as an affectation."
    • AF-fect (n) - Usually only used in psychology circles, and it's basically a term for an emotional response.
    • Effect (n) - A consequence or result of something. "The effect of all the heavy rain was flooding."
    • Effect (v) - To create a change. "Due to the flooding, the city effected changes in flood channel construction."
    • The things you carry on your person (in your purse or pockets) are your "personal effects"
  • Being agnostic does not mean that a person is "undecided" or "unsure" about the existence of a god; it means that they believe in the divine, but freely admit that they don't know its exact nature (or, in some cases, that they believe that the exact nature of the divine is inherently unknowable). This is the reason for the word's Greek etymology: it comes from the prefix "a-" (meaning "lacking" or "without") and the root word "gnosis" (meaning "knowledge"). note 
  • AIDS is often used to refer to the notorious sexually-transmitted disease that cripples the host's immune system. "AIDS" stands for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, and many people don't understand the "syndrome" part. You cannot catch AIDS; rather, you are reduced to it by being infected with the aforementioned STD, which by the way is called HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), and having it beat the snot out of your immune cells. It is possible for someone to have HIV, but not AIDS, so long as their immune system is still intact. In addition, no one dies from AIDS - they die from complications related to the condition.
  • 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.
  • 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".
    • This leads to an interesting false etymology: ali- is an existing but uncommon Latin prefix for "wing", in addition to the better-known -corn meaning "horn".
  • 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"). Government documents will use "alien" in the proper use of the word, however.
  • Ambivalence is not the same as ambiguity or just 'not bothered'. if you feel ambivalent about a decision, you are torn by equally strong feelings in two (or more) directions. A child deciding whether to live with her mother or father after a divorce might feel ambivalent.
  • In the SCP Foundation notably, you will very often see the word amnesiac referring to substances that cause loss of memory. An amnesiac is actually a person suffering from amnesia. A substance causing amnesia would be an amnestic. However the word is so deeply rooted in SCP terminology that it's all but impossible to do anything about it. The Wiki only told newer authors that they prefer using "amnestic" instead of "amnesiac", but would forgive any uses of the latter. The mistake also inspired a joke SCP.
  • The distinction between amount and quantity (or number) is often ignored. You have an amount of a mass noun such as water or money, and a quantity of a countable noun such as dollars or shoes. The distinction between "less" and "fewer" is related to this; you'd say "less money" but "fewer shoes", which is why the sign at the supermarket aisle ought to read, "Twelve items or fewer," not "Twelve items or less".
    • If the supermarket really wanted to flout (not flaunt) the rules (although they'd probably be flaunting them in their heads), it could remove all doubt by saying "Twelve or less items". "Twelve items or less" leaves just enough room for them to wriggle out: the hanging "less" doesn't actually state less what, even though it's heavily implied they mean items.
  • Anarchy literally means "without a ruler", coming from the roots "an-" or "no" and "archy" or "rule". Anarchism is a political position opposed to government as well as to other forms of hierarchy or authority. Anarchists believe that social harmony can be more easily maintained through cooperation rather than competition. However, the word "anarchy" has come to mean the opposite: a state of violent chaos due to a lack of central authority. The word "anarchist" has also been used to mean a terrorist or sower of discord, a perception influenced by a rash of terrorist acts and assassinations in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which were committed by anarchists. And even theorists didn't always agree anyway on what it means:
    "Anarchism is no patent solution for all human problems, no Utopia of a perfect social order, as it has so often been called, since on principle it rejects all absolute schemes and concepts. It does not believe in any absolute truth, or in definite final goals for human development, but in an unlimited perfectibility of social arrangements and human living conditions, which are always straining after higher forms of expression, and to which for this reason one can assign no definite terminus nor set any fixed goal." — Rudolf Rocker, Anarcho-Syndicalism, 1938.
    • To be even more precise, 'anarchy' comes from 'an-' (not) and 'arche' (higher/highest), meaning a form of social organization, with no one standing above anyone else. It is a regime without a ruler, but not without rules. A direct democracy, where every conflict is solved by a common voting by people who have equal vote (or a common consensus) is an example of anarchy.
  • Android, cyborg and robot are not synonyms, as a quick glance at their respective etymologies should make clear. "Android" is derived from the Greek prefix "andro" ("man") and the suffix "oid" ("resembling"), and it means "An artificial creation built in the likeness of a human. 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". "Cyborg" is a contraction of "cybernetic organism", and it means "A lifeform with a combination of organic and mechanical body parts". "Robot" is derived from the Russian "rabota" ("to work"), and it means "An autonomous machine built to perform a specific task". The term android technically refers to an artificial life form that resembles a male human. The female equivalent would be a gynoid.
    • For that matter, the first use of the word "robot" has in R.U.R.. The robots in the play were organic constructs, not mechanical ones that are often pictured when the word is used.
    • 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.
  • Animation is not just a filming style involving showing progressive drawings at a fast pace to simulate movement. It is anything which can be described as "lively, vibrant, or capable of movement". Only moderately pedantic because the old use is still remembered, especially in the antonym "inanimate", but confusion still tends to arise when speaking of things like "animated corpses".
  • Anime is Japanese for animation. That's it. There never was a special distinction between anime and other cartoons but in the West, it gets its own category just because the art has certain similarities with each other. Technically, there's no such thing as "anime art". The Simpsons' or Disney would also be called anime in Japan.
    • On a similar note, manga just means comics. Any comic. However, neither Chinese nor Korean comics consider themselves manga, although they share similar styles. They are respectively Manhua and Manhwa.
  • Anniversary, means a celebration of one year, the root word anno being Latin for "year". However, it's used commonly by young people to refer to any time together from weeks to months to years. (A celebration of a month would be a "mensiversary", but that's a highly archaic term.) On another note, it's also quite common to disregard "celebration" as part of the word's definition — which could resort in some discomfort when one mentions "the anniversary of 9/11", to say the least.
  • Something that is anonymous has no name attached. If there is a name attached but it doesn't match the one on the originator's passport, such as an internet username, it's pseudonymous.
  • Antisocial: Sometimes used to mean someone who dislikes or fears socializing. In the psychological sense, it doesn't mean that at all. Antisocial attitudes or behaviors are against society, from extreme acts like murder to more minor transgressions like simply being a manipulative, self-centered Jerkass. Someone who fears interacting with other people should be said to be asocial or suffering from social phobia, not "antisocial" tendencies. As a matter of fact, social phobia is an outdated term, and is usually now called "social anxiety disorder." In other words, people who are antisocial are hostile — not merely indifferent — towards society.
    • "Antisocial" is also used to denote "rebellious" individuals actively fighting (not necessarily by violence, also by dissent or passive-aggressive behavior) any authority and are incapable of operating under external influence.
    • An increasingly more popular and accurate term for the above disorder is agoraphobia, from the ancient Greek term for "fear of the marketplace." But to be honest, I've always understood that agoraphobia is fear of the entire outside world, not just the "social" parts of it. Thus, an agoraphobe would be just as afraid of being lost in a forest or a desert as they were of crowds.
      • It makes more sense once you know that 'agora' in this case is what the Romans called the 'forum', rather than your run-of-the-mill farmers' market.
    • Agoraphobia is more specifically a fear of being unable to escape from whatever situation you're in (sometimes amended to include 'without severe embarrassment'), rather than the situation itself. In the above examples, the phobic response would be due to the fear of never escaping the forest, or being lost in the desert forever. Being in a busy place (e.g. a football crowd) could count if you couldn't leave your set without making a huge scene.
    • What "agoraphobia" misses is the social part of "social anxiety disorder". Sartre's "Hell is other people" hits a nerve - and as unjustified as that hit may be, it's still felt.
    • Perhaps more appropriate word would be "asocial", and it is sometimes used, though it implies lack of interest in social interaction while not fear of it.
      • This is exactly the term used in psychological parlance to describe people avoiding social situations due to social phobias, egomania, extreme introversion or any other factor.
    • Agoraphobia is a disorder more focused on the area and getting to safety (without embarrassing yourself) if needed and usually has to do with panic attacks or some of the symptoms of them. A fear focused on actual people or socializing is called social phobia or social anxiety disorder (and is much more severe than shyness so should not be used lightly despite its commonness — the most common mental disorder in adults other than substance abuse or depression, which is saying something). The best replacement for "antisocial" is "avoidant" — avoidant personality disorder is associated with extreme social phobia. "Asocial", as pointed out above, is different. Most shy/socially anxious/avoidant people would love to be social if they weren't anxious about it. There are people who simply do not like to be around other people without being either avoidant or antisocial; these are asocial. "Asocial", however, may look like a typo in writing "antisocial" to a reader.
    • On a related note, introversion is not being antisocial; being introverted is simply preferring solitary activities to social activities.
  • Apocryphal means "of uncertain truth." Something cannot be "probably apocryphal" unless you're admitting you yourself didn't check the facts on its general acceptance; the word implies uncertainty, albeit sufficient uncertainty to reject it as historical fact, but not falsehood per se. One or two contemporary accounts or products could (and very often have) rocket most "apocryphal" events into widespread acceptance.
  • Arab refers to people who speak Arabic. It is not a term for Muslims in general (There are Christian, Druze, and even Jewish Arabs, and most Muslims come from non Arab countries). Similar, Afghanis note . Iranians note  or Pakistanis note  are not Arabs, although all use a similar script to Arabic.
  • Contrary to what some believe, arbitrary does not mean the same thing as "random" or "ever-changing." It refers to a decision, definition, or policy which lacks a basis in prior precedent. It is true that policies based largely on arbitration usually change rapidly and seemingly at random, but that is only a side effect. It is not the definition of the word.
  • Archaic does not simply mean old or outdated. It describes a word from an older language being used in a modern language in a specific sense, or something so old as to no longer be in use (for example, steam engine cars are archaic).
  • In archery, one does not fire or shoot an arrow, one looses an arrow.
  • Argumentum ad hominem is (to quote The Other Wiki) "an argument which links the validity of a premise to a characteristic or belief of the person advocating the premise." It's not just a fancy word for a personal attack. "You suck, therefore your argument is false" is ad hominem. "You suck" on its own isn't, neither is "your argument is false, therefore you suck,"note  nor is "Your argument is false and you suck." It's certainly rude, but not fallacious.
    • In many cases, the "therefore your argument is false" part is left implied. The intent is still to discredit the advocate rather than (probably more difficult) rebuttal of the premise; that the link is not explicitly stated doesn't necessarily mean it isn't ad hominem - if the attack is trying to bring down the premise, it is. If the person being attacked is not advocating anything, though (or if anything they might be advocating has nothing to do with the attack), it isn't ad hominem - just a personal attack.
  • The arm technically lies solely between the shoulder joint and the elbow joint. Similarly, the leg lies between the knee joint and the ankle joint. They are parts of the upper and lower extremities, respectively.
  • Arithmetic is not synonymous with Mathematics as it only covers the basic 4 operations {addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.
  • 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).
  • Artificial originally meant "full of skilled artifice" (i.e. constructed expertly), rather than just "something constructed by humans in imitation of something natural".
  • Before being adopted by 19th-century European and American "racial scientists" and subsquently Nazis and white supremacists, Aryan was originally the term of choice for Indo-Iranian peoples because they called themselves Arya. Whatever Arya originally meant, it was more of socio-linguistic designation than an ethnic one. Some of them may have had blond hair, but the majority probably didn't. By this definition, then, the descendants of the Aryans can be found in countries such as India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Irannote , Tajikistan and Bangladesh. (In India, Aryan is opposed to Dravidian.)
    • The word itself means something akin to "well formed", from a root *ar- (which survives in the Greek aristos, "best", and English art, amongst others). As applied to the people themselves and their language, it probably carries the meaning "skillfully assembled, rightly proportioned, obeying the right customs" or similar, with the feeling of "one of us" (its precise opposite, anarya, is frequently used to mean "wrong" or "other"). This, along with its status as the earliest attested Indo-European autonym, is one of the reasons it was adopted by white supremacists to label their racial ideal. It's more than likely that none of them had blond hair (this was considered a marker of specifically "Germanic" rather than Aryan heritage), because their origins were likely as nomads on the Pontic-Caspian steppe, where blond hair is rare.
    • Speaking of Aryans, the Nazis had a very, ah, unusual (read: arbitrary) definition of Aryan. They could never really decide if "Aryan" meant Indo-European, White European, Nordic/Germanic European, Non-Jewish European, and/or Non-Slavic European. They also classified a number of people as Aryan which even modern white supremacists would find a little puzzling. Many Germans liked Karl May novels, so the Sioux became Aryans. For political convenience, the Japanese were Aryans. Nazi mythology placed the Aryan homeland in Tibet due to connection with Theosophy, so Tibetans were Aryans, too, even though the Tibetans are more closely related to the Burmese and Chinese than anyone else. Perhaps most bizarrely of all, the Nazis decided that their allies the Croats were Aryans whereas the ethnically identical Serbs were Slavic Untermenschen.
  • The phrase 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".
  • Asian is a term denoting an origin in the continent of Asia, ranging from most of the Middle East to the Orient. In British usage, it is a common term used to denote a South Asian origin (ex. India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka), and the term Oriental is used to denote an East Asian origin. In Australian and American usage, it refers to the Far East (ex. China, Japan, Thailand, Vietman and Korea), and the term Oriental is offensive in North America. Oriental traditionally referred to the countries east of the Middle East, meaning such places as Turkey and India. In fact, the Orient Express only went as far as Istanbul in its heyday.
    • And essentially no one considers Russians to be Asian even though 77% of Russia falls within the continent of Asia.
  • The term "Assault and Battery" exists because the two represent different parts of the same act. Assault is a a threat which suggests that "immediate harmful contact" will occur; battery occurs upon contact. Swinging a bat at somebody is assault. Hitting somebody with a bat is battery. Consequently, the latter usually depends on the former, except when the threat is unknown until contact. Generally, the contact doesn't have to be violent; the rule is that any unwelcome touching is battery (although as a practical matter you have to meet a certain threshold in order to get the authorities to prosecute). An unwanted pie in the face or kiss on the cheek constitutes assault and battery; thus some statutes on sexual assault actually call it "sexual battery" on the theory that you're punishing the touching, not the threat.
    • Different jurisdictions have different definitions. Example: what the MPC and the above call "Battery" is called "Assault" in Delaware, and what the above calls "Assault" is named "Menacing".
    • Bear in mind that both assault and battery are not only crimes, they are also civil torts in most common-law jurisdictions. This means that you can be prosecuted by the state and sued for damages by the victim for one act. Battery suits often address things that the state just lets slip; in one case frequently used in law schools (Garratt v. Dailey), an old woman successfully sued a five-year-old boy for $11,000 (in 1952 money!) after she got a hip fracture when he moved a chair she was trying to sit in.
  • ASCII (see Wikipedia) is a character-encoding scheme. Text User Interface is used a lot in Roguelikes, and because of that, text-based graphics are often referred to as "ASCII" even if they use a different scheme like EBCDIC or an "extended ASCII"note  scheme such as CP437 or Unicode.
    • Likewise, in the Windows world, "ANSI" is used to refer to the Windows-1252 encoding, especially as opposed to "Unicode" (itself actually a specific Unicode encoding).note  It is not actually an ANSI standard.
  • Asexual is applied in general to anyone who doesn't have sex for any reason, but, as a proper sexual orientation, there are several more nuanced shades of meaning. Asexual in the strict sense means that a person does not feel physical attraction to others. A person who wants to have sex but has physiological or psychological reasons preventing them from having sex is not asexual. Similarly, someone who identifies as asexual does not see themselves as suffering from a medical disorder like lack of sex drive.
    • An asexual can and often does experience attraction but it's more of the platonic/aesthetic type. There are as many different types of asexuals as sexuals, but it should really be pointed out that it has nothing to do with desiring relationships. There are many sexuals who do not desire relationships, for example, Charlie Sheen's character on Two and a Half Men.
    • Being asexual does not necessarily mean that the person doesn't want relationships— an aromantic person is uninterested in relationships. One can be asexual but romantic (enjoys friendship, love, kissing or hugging, but is uninterested in sexual activity) or sexual but aromantic (interested in sex but not in relationships).
    • Autosexual can refer to a person who enjoys masturbation, but not sex (with another person). Autosexuals are not considered asexual.
      • Technically, as an orientation, an autosexual is someone who is in love with themself. Otherwise, autosexuality or autoerotica is a behavior, not a sexual orientation. Otherwise, sexuals who masturbate would also be called autosexuals.
  • Asymmetric Multiplayer, as originally defined by Nintendo in reference to certain Wii U games, is a multiplayer mode in which the different players have totally different roles and capabilities, unlike most multiplayer games, where all the players are generally doing the same thing and playing the game the same way. This does not include games where players can be different characters (e.g., a magic user and a sword user) with slightly different abilities but carry out essentially the same goal in the same way. This instead refers to games where the roles, abilities and gameplay experience are drastically different. Misuse of the term became an issue with Star Trek: The Video Game and several other games revealed and/or discussed in the period during/after E3 2012, when the development teams for the games claimed that their Co-Op Multiplayer counted as Asymmetric Multiplayer (probably stemming from a desire to ride on the coattails of the initial Wii U hype).
  • The words atom and molecule, and their derived terms ("molecular", etc.) are not synonymous. Molecules are structures formed from atoms. By strict usage, "molecule" only refers to structures held together by covalent bonds, so e.g. a block of metal is not made of molecules - its atoms are connected by metallic bonds.
  • Autistic, at least on the Internet, gets used to mean "'retarded' only less so" more and more often in recent years - while less for perceived stupidity and more for social awkwardness (so you'll never find someone calling an inanimate object autistic even online), the general effect is the same. "Autistic" can also be used to refer to someone who has an exceptional focus on a particular activity, even if the person being described does not have an autism spectrum disorder at all. This is most likely due to the G.I.F.T.; anonymity means both that people feel freer to use "autistic" to mean "asshole" despite the Unfortunate Implications, and that people feel freer to use autism as an excuse for being an asshole (whether they're actually diagnosed or not), which only perpetuates the stereotype.
  • The word average came from the french word for a damaged ship or shipment, avarie. This was anglicized into average during the colonization of the Americas, when there was a lot of English-to-French trade. Every time a shipment was damaged, they would calculate the total amount each person would have to pay by splitting the total up into equal pieces. Taking an average eventually moved from "splitting a sum up into equal parts" to "the most equal division of a certain sum", which is it's modern definition. You can see a bit of this old influence in the mathematical average calculation, which still involves adding things up and then dividing them.
  • 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".

B

  • Bar mitzvah literally translates to "son of the commandment," i.e. "one to whom the commandments apply", and so it is something that boys become. Therefore you technically do not "have a bar mitzvah", you have a celebration to commemorate becoming a bar mitzvah (similar to the technical definition of "bachelor party"). And as any Jewish parent will tell you, planning one of these parties is like planning a wedding.
    • In addition, the plural, unisex way to say bat mitzvah or bar mitzvah is b'nai mitzvah (or b'nei mitzvah); however, because this is both plural and non-gender, no one "becomes" a b'nai mitzvah. You can go to one, as in, "I'm going to my cousins' b'nai mitzvah."
    • Also, a bar mitzvah is not when a Jewish boy is circumcised; that is on the eighth day, a bris mila (or b'rit mila, in non-Ashkenazi dialects). The confusion comes from the fact that in Africa, boys are typically circumcised at a much older age. And the word meaning "circumcision" is "mila", not "bris" (which simply means "covenant").
  • "Please bare with me". No, I don't know you well enough. But if you like, I'll try and bear with you (in the metaphorical sense of following where you're going).
  • To beg the question is to commit a logical fallacy in which the proposition to be proved is assumed implicitly or explicitly in one of the premises (e.g. "Of course I had a reason for doing it — otherwise, I wouldn't have done it!"). The phrase, however, is frequently used with the meaning "to raise the question" (e.g. "If you didn't put the overalls in Mrs. Murphy's chowder, it begs the question of who did."). The Latin name for it is petitio principii, literally, "assuming the initial point", they should have just called it "assuming the point" rather than "begging the question" for the fallacy's relation to circular reasoning. In general it implies something like "to request that one's opponent concede the initial point".
  • Bemused has nothing to do with being "amused" — in fact it means "utterly confused."
  • To be bereft of something does not just mean to be without something. It means to be without something that you previously had.
  • Bestiality is any sexual act considered "bestial", including incest or sodomy. Sexual attraction to 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.
  • Beta is often used to refer to a video game in any development stage before it's released. It's actually the "feature complete" stage, just when it's about to be ready for release. It is tested by a limited audience outside the programming team to find bugs and improve usability. It is not equivalent to a video game only being part way finished. Alpha testing is (as the name suggests) the testing of the unfinished software by the development team prior to the beta release. Gamma or Release Candidate refers software that is finished and ready for official release, barring any major bugs.
  • Big Ben is the name of the bell at the top of the clock tower of the Palace of Westminster in London. The tower itself is called the "Elizabeth Tower", not Big Ben.
  • A bigot isn't a racist or sexist or any other kind of "hater" you can think of. In fact, a bigot doesn't judge people at all - or at least not their intrinsic natures. When the word first became common during the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, it was used to mean someone who wouldn't tolerate other people's opinions - particularly a person's religious beliefs, or lack thereof. The play Inherit the Wind uses the word in its original sense frequently. It was probably the TV series All in the Family that was most responsible for shifting the definition of bigot all the way to "hater."
  • Bishōnen (美少年hiragana )is only supposed to mean androgynously attractive underaged (specifically, under eighteen) males, with 美男子hiragana romaji  addressing of-age examples. Of course, outside Japan, very few care about these subtle distinctions.
  • 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.
  • Saying someone is borderline does not mean they're on the cusp of having a personality disorder; it means they do have one. Borderline is a name for a very specific pattern of behaviour involving emotional instability, poor self-image, impulsiveness, and black-and-white thinking (what psychologists call "splitting"), as well as a fear of abandonment. The name is only used because of historical reasons which are too complex to get into here, and the existence of the disorder has been questioned, with some seeing it as a variant of post-traumatic stress disorder (specifically, one that the profession slaps on female PTSD sufferers, as the overwhelming majority of borderline personality disorder diagnoses are of women).
  • Off the northwestern coast of Europe are the British Isles, a collection of two large and many small islands, the largest of which is (Great) Britain and the second largest of which is Ireland. Together they contain two countries: the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and Ireland (called the "Republic of Ireland" to differentiate it from the island, of which it covers about five-sixths.) The United Kingdom is a country composed of four constituent countries: Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England. Cornwall is a politically united but culturally distinct area within England. There also exists the Isle of Man, the Bailiwick of Guernsey, and the Bailiwick of Jersey, which are not part of the United Kingdom, but which have its Queen as their sovereign and which the UK provides for the military defence thereof. It is confusing but please, for your own safety, NEVER use England to refer to anything besides the land south of the River Tweed and east of the Rivers Vyrnwy and Tamar (Cornwall may be a more debated case but the Cornish will like you for it).
    • The term "British Isles" is also disputed by many Irish people, who object to the term "British", given its usual usage as "of or pertaining to Great Britain". The governments of the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland both avoid using the term, as do most Irish people, but it is a common term in Great Britain, where it is seen as an entirely neutral, geographic term, akin to "Indian Subcontinent" or "North America".
      • Well the British Government uses it, just not in international documents. The neutral term often used is Islands of the North Atlantic (IONA). (This does, mind, include the islands of Faeroe, which are really quite un-British, being ruled by Denmark and speaking their own North Germanic language and all...)
      • Not to be confused with the island of Iona off the west coast of Scotland.
      • At least in the travel industry, the "Indian Subcontinent" is now the "South Asian Subcontinent".
    • Also, it's standard practice to refer the UK as "Britain", even though Northern Ireland is part of the former but not the latter.
    • Also, a person from Scotland is "a Scot"; many people from Scotland are "Scots." You may describe their nationality and their institutions as "Scottish" (so it's perfectly to say "my friend is Scottish" in the same way that one would say "my friend is English"), but only in that sense.
      • 'Scottish' is an adjective qualifying someone or something from Scotland. 'Scot' is a noun. While it's preferable to refer to people from Scotland as "the Scots" rather than "the Scottish"note , it is not wrong to refer to someone as Scottish by way of an adjective. On that note, the adjective is indeed 'Scottish'. Don't use the adjective 'Scotch' outside of Scotch whisky, Scotch eggs or Scotch pies, at least not if you don't want to be scotched yourself.note 
      • And while we're at it, place-name adjectives like "Parisian" or "Viennese" do not simply mean "from Paris" or "from Vienna", but rather "typical or characteristic of the place in question". Thus, you can have a Viennese café in London (i.e. it embodies characteristics commonly associated with Vienna), but "Le Monde" is a "Paris newspaper" (i.e. a newspaper based in Paris).
    • These rules similarly apply to people. Hugh Laurie was born in England, Ewan McGregor in Scotland, and Catherine Zeta Jones in Wales. All three are Britishnote , but only Laurie is English. Pierce Brosnan is neither (he's Irish).
      • And just to make things more complicated—people from most of the British Isles wince at the expression 'British accent'. Usually because they know what foreigners mean by that, and resent the implication that's how they sound. 'English accent' is marginally better (not that people from much of England will take kindly to being told 'all British accents sound posh and educated to me...', as they'll still feel that their existence is being denied and aren't always as pleased as you'd think to be told they sound 'classy', but it narrows the offence a little.)
    • The Isle of Man is not part of England, Scotland or even the UK; it's a separate dependency of the British Crown. The Bailiwick of Jersey and the Bailiwick of Guernsey (known collectively as the Channel Islands) are the other two Crown Dependencies. ("Bailiwick" being an archaic term meaning the area under the jurisdiction of a bailiff — a bailiff being a sheriff's appointee, so a bailiwick would have been a part of a shire). There are also 13 British overseas territories, and the Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia (both on Cyprus).
    • On that note, now you know where the idiomatic expression bailiwick got its meaning: it means an area specific to one's jurisdiction (department, profession, area of expertise): "not my bailiwick".
  • Brittle refers to materials that break without physical deformation. While they generally take less energy to actually break, the word is by no means synonimous with "fragile".
  • A butler is the head of a large household of servants, dealing specifically with the wine cellars — "butler" is, in fact, a corruption of "bottler". Because Jeeves is Bertie Wooster's only servant, his first job title would be "valet", although butlers may double as valets and vice versa.
    • In one story, Jeeves' feelings are actually hurt when he is called on to buttle. That the normally unflappable "gentleman's gentleman" takes offense at something that seems trivial to us says that at one point it was a much more important distinction.
    • Additionally, valet, when referring to a gentleman's servant, is always pronounced such that it rhymes with "pallet" or "mallet". Valet prounounced in the French style, such that it rhymes with "chalet", is an attendant who parks your car.

C

  • Calorie is a non-SI unit of energy. It is relatively small unit however, so caloric intake of foods is usually expressed in kilocalories, (1 kcal = 1000 calories). Thus an average recommended daily energy intake is not 2200 calories but 2200 kilocalories or 2,200,000 calories.
    • A Calorie refers to a kilocalorie, while a calorie refers to the base unit. This can get confusing when 'calorie' is at the beginning of a sentence, which without context, would be indistinguishable as to if it was between the normal unit or the large unit.
    • Also, although it isn't an SI unit, it is a metric unit rather than Imperial or American customary.
  • A cannibal eats members of its own species. Something that is non-human, but eats humans, is an anthropophage. "Anthropophage" is a pretty pedantic word, but come on; use "man-eater" or something. Technically a human who eats other humans would be a cannibal and an anthropophage, but "cannibal" seems superordinate in this case. The word "cannibal" derives from the Carib people (after whom the Caribbean Sea is named) who were once believed to chew and spit out the flesh of a defeated enemy.
    • This was actually mentioned in Dawn of the Dead (1978), where it was said that the undead were not cannibals, because they were no longer human.
    • This is also pointed out in Dragon Age: Origins by Alistair when he remarks that it's not cannibalism if Dog is eating fallen foes.
    • However, in fantasy/sci-fi settings, the definition is sometimes extended to any sapient creature eating another (Elves eating humans, or even lizardfolk, would be considered cannibals in such a setting).
  • In Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games, people often say, "Spell X has been casted" or "I have casted spell X". There is no word "casted". The word "cast" covers both present and past tenses. So both, "I will cast spell X on the monster" and "I have cast spell X on the monster" are the correct forms. The same conjugation is also used regardless of the specific thing or person being cast: Some sculptures are cast, actors are cast in movies.
  • Castration is specifically the removal of testicles. The correct term for the removal of the penis (or the male genitalia as a whole) is emasculation. Though it might be argued that the correct term for either one is ouch.
    • The surgical removal of the penis is called a penectomy, while orchidectomy is the term for the surgical removal of the testicles. (And now you get the joke in Mad Men about Bert Cooper's "unnecessary orchidectomy.")
    • One can be castrated without the testicles being removed (still less the whole scrotum- very dangerous without modern techniques, it has a heavy blood supply)- the only significant part is the testes, the glands within them. These can be permanently decommissioned by drugs or, in the case of the Italian castrati singers of the 14th to 19th centuries, by being deliberately ruptured by being squeezed by one who knows where to apply pressure. (They can also be ruptured by accident, though you'd have to be very unlucky to lose both this way.)
  • Casual, by its original definition, meant irregular or occasionally, which fits well with a person that does something every now and then instead of doing it regularly. Nowadays, people use casual, in terms of video games or other forms of entertainment activity, as an insult towards people that do not dedicate their time to an activity and even many video games have begun to use casual to mean "easy".
  • Casualties are the people wounded and permanently crippled (physically or psychologically), missing, captured, and dead sustained during a military operation or in any other given period. There is a term the dead, missing, captured, and crippled alone: Irrecoverable Casualties. Those who merely died (sometimes including those dead of wounds or in captivity) constitute Fatalities. Note however that the definition of wounded is pretty fluid - it can mean anything from "minor stab wound requiring hospitalisation to be on the safe side" to "crippling but temporary phobia of footsteps" to "three limbs blown off and permanent loss of hearing". In other words just anything short of actual death.
    • To quote the other wiki, "In military usage, a casualty is a person in service killed in action, killed by disease, disabled by injuries, disabled by psychological trauma, captured, deserted, or missing, but not someone who sustains injuries which do not prevent them from fighting." So if one received a minor stab wound and got stitched up and sent back to the front one would not be a casualty.
  • A categorical imperative is not simply an absolute imperative. While "categorical" can mean "absolute," a "categorical imperative" is a moral obligation born of the consequences of a significant portion of a category of people shirking it, despite little harm in any one individual doing so.
  • Centurion is not an all-encompassing term for a soldier in Ancient Rome; it was an upper-level rank in the Roman military (roughly analogous to "Captain" or "Major") specifically designating the commander of a Century (a unit of around 100 soldiers, hence the name). A baseline Roman soldier (analogous to "Private") was a Legionary (not Legionnaire; that comes from the French Foreign Legion).
  • CGI: In Video Games, the term is often misused to describe pre-rendered cutscenes. All videogames (except ones done entirely with Full Motion Video) use CGI, which means "computer-generated imagery". Even Pac-Man and Donkey Kong use CGI; their graphics were created by computer images. When a cutscene is debated on whether it shows real gameplay, there's no question whether it has CGI (unless it features live-action video). The question is whether the video was pre-rendered and recorded beforehand or if it features the actual game assets.
  • Technically, the proper idiom for being highly eager to commence is champing at the bit, not chomping at the bit. Champing at the bit is an equine reference when horses to chew on the bit when the animal is impatient or eager. Horses do chomp at the bit sometimes, but for entirely different reasons, usually when they're upset or angry. However, thanks to the verb "to champ" being archaic these days, people interchange "chomp" for "champ".
  • A Chaingun is a single-barrel weapon with an electrically driven bolt operated with a chain. It is not a rotary gun. This comes from Doom misusing the term; usually, the reasoning for the mistake is that the latter is fed with a "chain" (ie a belt) of ammunition, or that the barrel group is driven by a chain.
    • More accurately still, a "Chain Gun" is the specific model of weapon used on many US and NATO aircraft. Any autoloading (generally fully automatic) weapon larger than a machinegun is called an "autocannon" regardless of mechanism. A multi-barrelled weapon in this class that rotates is called a "Rotary Autocannon." A single-barreled weapon that uses a rotating loading mechanism is a "Revolver Autocannon". The most accurate name for Doom's "chaingun" would be "Rotary Submachine Gun", as it uses pistol ammunition.
  • Charisma refers to someone's speaking talents and ability to influence others through force of personality and diplomacy. While good looks help, someone is not charismatic because she looks good in a formal dress, or because he has blue eyes and a nice smile; similarly, just because someone is able to speak publicly and get their point across doesn't qualify them either, not unless people are cheering wildly for how the news is presented, rather than the facts themselves.
  • Chastity means obeying the appropriate moral rules for sexual behavior, which does not necessarily imply sexual abstinence: in traditional Christian teaching, for example, a chaste husband and wife would be sexually active with each other (but with nobody else), but a chaste, unmarried person would be sexually abstinent.
  • 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.
  • The word chef is widely used to refer to any cook regardless of rank, but it is the shortened version of the French term chef de cuisine, the head or director of a kitchen. The word "chef" comes from the Latin word caput ("head"), so "head chef" really means "head head" (though, if we want to be true pedants, one might argue the "head" in "head chef" means "top" or "most important" metaphorically). Only the highest ranking cook in the whole kitchen is the chef.
  • Cherubim (singular cherub) are the alien looking creatures appearing in the book of Ezekiel. The chubby little winged cupids are called putti (or putto in singular), and don't really have anything to do with biblical angels.
  • The word child has different meanings, depending on the context in which it is used. Biologically, a child is a human who has not attained puberty. Legally, "child" may used in different ways depending on the purpose in question (such as immigration law or the age of consent), but generally refers to an individual under the age of majority - this is generally 18 (as per the UN's Convention on the Rights of the Child), but ranges internationally from 15 to 21. "Child" also refers to the offspring of someone, regardless of what age they are.
    • The related term adolescent refers to a human who has reached puberty but has not reached full growth or another developmental cutoff point. What constitutes the end of adolescence varies depending on the purpose. Legally, adolescence ends at the age of majority, whereas medically and psychologically definitions often extend it well into ones twenties.
      • The term teenager or teen refers to humans aged 13-19, but is often used as a synonym for "adolescent".
    • Youth is another imprecise term for the period of life where one is young or for young people in general. It often refers to the period of life encompassing childhood, adolescence and young adulthood. It may also be used to refer exclusively to adolescents under the age of majority.
    • A baby (or an infant) is a very young child (generally under age 1) who has yet to learn how to walk. In common use, "baby" is often used as an affectionate term for one's lover. It may also be used to refer to miniature versions of objects, for example "baby carrots", "baby piano" or "baby corn".
  • Chronic does not mean "severe". It means "recurring/habitual" and/or "happening for a long time;" it comes from a Greek root meaning "time" (same as "chronological" or "chronicle"), so you should think "over time." Contrast acute, which means "rapid onset". Too many people associate "acute" with "small" due to its meaning in geometry (they should be associating it with "sharp" for the same reason).
    • Also an illness being acute does not necessarily mean that it is serious, it only means that full set of symptoms display themselves quickly (a papercut is acute). So calling a disease Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) is not tautological.
  • The phrase "compare and contrast" is redundant. Contrasting involves comparing—contrasting is comparing only the differences, while comparing in the broader sense may also note similarities.
  • The word claymore does not refer to a specific type of sword. The word is a corruption of the Scots Gaelic phrase claidheamh mòr, which means big sword. It is commonly used to describe both the late medieval two-handed swords, and the 17th- and 18th century scottish basket-hilted broadswords, because both kinds were longer and heavier than the norm for swords at the time.
  • Cojones is Spanish for balls. Cajones is Spanish for drawers. Although, saying cajones in English could be a bilingual pun.
  • Television announcers in both the US and Canada routinely use the word common-law husband or wife to denote the person someone is living with. The act of cohabitation, no matter how long, never creates a legal relationship in the U.S., and only rarely in Canada.
  • Comprise and compose are (roughly) reciprocal, not synonyms. An archipelago is composed of many islands, and comprises those islands; it is not comprised of the islands — if anything, the islands are comprised of the archipelago (though this use of of is very archaic; comprised by might be better—although not by much, since comprised by is hardly a common expression either).
  • 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.
    • In the 19th century, the words “computer” and “calculator” were used interchangeably to designate the people—generally women—who did the number-crunching behind the hard sciences.
  • Concerning is often deployed as meaning an area of much concern rather than its actual meaning, regarding. The real word to use in such an instance is disconcerting.
  • 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.
  • 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 . 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. Political theorist David Nolan (creator of the Nolan chart, which corrects for the inconsistencies of the left/right axis) has suggested that populist be substituted for what most Americans refer to as liberal - fitting, since American liberalism is usually thought to have split into its "classical" and "modern" wings in the 1890s, when the Democratic party (cautiously) co-opted the People's (or "Populist") party in order to blunt the accusation from socialists and others that they were no different from the Republican party.
      • ''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.
    • Intertwined with the above controversy is the common blurring of the line between society and culture. The "social" structure is just that - a structure, an artificial construct created by humans to preserve law and order according to an arbitrary standard; whereas "culture" is more organic, more universal (at least in theory), and primarily concerned with anything humans do that is not necessary for survival (religion, art, entertainment). One can be both culturally liberal in believing that artists have the right to create pornography and socially conservative in insisting that that pornography never be distributed to - let alone involve - children. Similarly, one can be culturally conservative by remaining a good Christian or Jew or Buddhist, but socially liberal if those religious beliefs lead one to oppose the status quo in the name of a higher standard of justice (anti-abortion protesters, for instance).
  • Conspicuous means "obvious," not "suspicious," no matter the way it sounds. Thus, if something was conspicuously absent, you are merely able to notice that it was absent; you do not necessarily have to raise an eyebrow at its absence.
    • This may come from a character saying that they need to remain "inconspicuous" while in disguise or something similar. The character wants it to not be obvious they are in a disguise and consequently not be suspicious. Since they can say, "I want to be inconspicuous," or, "I don't want to be suspicious," interchangeably in such a situation, this may be why people equate them.
    • By itself, conspicuous may not mean suspicious, but in that particular context it is implied the same as saying something is remarkably or questionably absent.
  • Claret—meaning a type of red Bordeaux wine and its associated colour—is pronounced to rhyme approximately with "merit". The word is a very old English borrowing, deriving from medieval English nobles' love of a kind of dark rosé Bordeaux called clairet, which the English eventually changed to "claret" as they began speaking English rather than French as a first language. They eventually began just calling any Bordeaux "claret," and when the preference of the English nobility (who still love French wine, especially Bordeaux) shifted from a rosé to dark red, the name didn't change. Pronouncing it in the French manner is a hyperforeignism and frowned upon by the people who actually drink it. (You might be forgiven for your first offence if you're from a region or group that isn't familiar with the term—for instance, the same wine marketed as a "claret" in England will just be called a Bordeaux in America—but once you've been warned, you're on your own.)
  • Consequences. It's commonly used to mean the negative results of an action; the opposite of a reward or benefit. Its actual definition is all results of an action, positive and negative.
  • Contemporary means of the same time. To use it without a temporal context is to invite the question, "contemporary with what?" If you use it as a synonym for modern, well — at least please be very careful that no other time, such as the lifetime of J. S. Bach, is mentioned or implied nearby.
    • It would be safer to use "present" or "current" if you want to be Very Pedantic. Technically, J. S. Bach's lifetime happened in the modern period too.
  • Controversial should not be used to describe people, things, or ideas that are merely "shocking" or "in bad taste". The word literally means "likely to provoke dissent" (i.e. controversy) — and that dissent need not be bitter. That's why "controversial" does not always have to be a "negative" word, even though that's how it tends to be used. Since almost everyone disapproves of child pornography, for example, child pornography is not "controversial". You should use terms such as "scandalous" or "outrageous" instead. (But don't use "uproarious", because that term has incorrectly come to mean "extremely funny.")
  • Corporatism is the doctrine promoted by Mussolini that society should function as a body (Latin: corpus) in which each of the various sectors of society (government, business, labor, etc.) are treated as "organs" within the body, interdependent and working toward the betterment of the whole. The term can include big business, but is broader than a simple collusion between business and government; "corporatism" has absolutely nothing to do with the English word "corporation."
    • Relatedly, corporate personhood does not refer to letting companies vote or adopt children the way individual citizens can. It means a group of people ("a body") are treated as one person for administrative and certain legal purposes (particularly certain economic rights, including, most importantly, the right to enter into contracts and the right to sue and be sued). Perhaps ironically, "abolishing corporate personhood," if done without extremely fine precision, could ban labor unions, Indian tribes petitioning for reparations, and class-action lawsuits.
  • 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  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.
  • Crescendo is the process of getting louder, or greater in some other way, not a rise on pitch, or to the peak reached at the end of that processis — the word you want is, well, climax. . So something can't “reach a crescendo”—well, it can, but that would mean the point where things start to get more intense—much less “build to a crescendo”. The word you're probably looking for is climax (although pedants would point out that "climax" is Greek for ladder, and originally meant something similar to "crescendo". A pedant might recommend "apex", "acme", "pinnacle" or "zenith" instead.) Jamie Bernstein has suggested that the word is misused this way "because the sound of the word so felicitously evokes the crashing of cymbals: 'the crash at the end-o.'"
  • Cretin: The most common derivation provided in English dictionaries is from the Alpine French dialect pronunciation of the word Chrétien, meaning Christian. Another misconception is that 'cretin' originally referred to the mainland Greeks' supposed low opinion of the inhabitants of Crete island. This is false: first, there is no mention of any persistent common prejudice directed to people from Crete from other Greeks, and second, in Greek, people from Crete are called 'Kretikoi', which would be transliterated to 'Cretics', not Cretans or Cretins.
  • Critic, incidentally, is unrelated to either; its root is the same as that of crisis and crime, among others: a verb meaning to distinguish between one thing and another. (A crisis is the moment of decision between two outcomes; criminal law distinguishes between what is and is not tolerated; a critic points out distinctions between good and bad art.) For this you tend to use criteria (which is the plural of criterion).
  • 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'.
  • Cryogenics is a branch of physics dealing with the production of extremely cold temperatures and the way that certain materials react within those temperatures. It's often mistakenly used in place of cryonics, the practice of freezing organic tissue to prevent it from decaying.
  • 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.
  • 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.

D

  • 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.
    • It doesn't help of course that "datum" is now generally used to describe not just any old "data point" but a specific reference point, depriving data of its singular and making this a bit of a lost battle.
    • The word media also is starting to show signs of abuse (e.g., "removable media" for a single CD-ROM). If you really want shocking, however, look no further than French, where "media" (as in newspapers) is now most commmonly used as the singular and "medias" as its plural—and that's in a so-called Latin language.
    • The word “agenda” was similarly originally plural (“things that are to be done”). This usage did not last long.
  • Deadly sins: Envy, Gluttony, Greed, Lust, Pride, Sloth, and Wrath are, in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the "seven cardinal vices". The term "Deadly sin" or "mortal sin" refers to any sin that is serious enough to separate a Christian from the grace of God, unless the sinner undergoes the sacrament of reconciliation (confession, penance, and absolution). According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Cardinal Vices are contrasted with the Cardinal Virtues, and refers to character traits that are the root of all sin. For instance, one does not murder simply for murder's sake, but because Wrath was awakened when the person was wronged, or because Greed was awakened when the person saw an opportunity to get money, etc.
  • 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.
  • "Decapitated head" is paradoxical: to decapitate someone is to behead him. Cutting a head off of itself is...well...inconceivable. A body can be decapitated; a better adjective for a head on its own is severed. (Disembodied usually means 'intangible'.)
    "Newsanchor overheard in Highlander: "It also left a man's decapitated body, lying on the floor next to his own severed head."
    • Related: "decapacitate" is a rarely-used word that means to reduce someone or something's capacity for action, essentially a milder version of "incapacitate." It doesn't necessarily have anything to do with the head; in fact, decapitating someone is far more likely to incapacitate them (by killing them) than decapacitate them.
  • Decimate comes from the Latin decimō, -āre, which means "to take a tenth part of something". Decimation was the Roman practice of executing one of every ten men in a rebellious or cowardly legion. The word also referred to the practice of tithing. However, it has been used since the 19th century to mean "destroy a large part of", no matter what proportion of a group was devastated. This is now by far the most common way the word is used, but some still object to the loss of the original meaning.
    • Actors may complain their agents decimate their salary — and would be technically correct!
    • A BBC game show called Decimate aired in 2015 and used the word in the sense of "reduce by one tenth" (in this instance, reducing the prize fund by that proportion). It didn't result in a revival of that sense though, as just about the only praise, or in fact notice of any kind, that the show got was from the handful of pedants pleased that it used the word correctly.
  • A demigod is not a lesser "category" of deity. "Demi" means "half", i.e. "half god". A demigod has both mortal and divine parentage. For example, Hercules (son of Zeus, a god, and Alcmene, a human) is a demigod, whereas a dryad (a forest spirit) is not.
    • Note, however, that the term was invented by 19th century classicists; the Greek word for "of mixed divine and mortal parentage" was "hero" (which originally never applied to pureblood mortals—and also had intrinsically cultic connotations, since all the mythic heroes were considered appropriate for worship, especially Heracles).
  • Demon is a catch-all term for any supernatural living being, with no implication of benevolence or malevolence. The term gained a negative connotation starting with the Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Bible, and is now colloquially used to refer to evil spirits or fallen angels.
  • Depression is yet another psychological term (seeing a trend here?) that's casually thrown around but has a different meaning in a medical or therapeutic context. Depression is not just sadness, but much more persistent and disabling, and includes many other mood changes and physical symptoms like: anhedonia (loss of the ability to feel pleasure), changes in sleep and eating habits (either much less or much more than usual), and a lack of energy and motivation.
  • A desert is any place with low rainfall and vegetation, regardless of the climate. Thus, Antarctica is a desert.
  • Despot (Greek δεσπότηςromanization , meaning "master"; feminine: δέσποιναromanization ) 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.
  • 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.)
  • Dice is the plural form of the word 'die' (as in, a little cube with dots on). However, it's used by many people as the singular form. For example, someone might say, 'I have a dice' which is equivalent to them saying something like 'I have a hamsters'. It gets ridiculous when people try and find a plural form of 'dice' and come up with the word 'dices', which means 'chops into small cubes' and is completely unrelated..
  • 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.
  • Differential is both a noun and an adjective, but in the noun form, it is a mechanical device used for combining torque from different inputs, not a synonym for difference. This is a favorite of television sports announcers ("There's a three-point differential in the game!").
    • A differential is also used in mathematics to refer to infinitesimals in calculus and differential geometry i.e. dx, dy etc or to the Jacobian matrix of partial derivatives.
  • A dilapidated building or object is one in a state of disrepair because of age or neglect. A few pedants insist that only a stone building can be dilapidated as the word comes from the Latin lapis, "stone". During The Dung Ages especially folks would often take stones from old buildings to build or repair their walls.
  • Dilemma involves a choice between two options, neither of which is desirable. A common misuse of this word is to refer to any difficult situation. Terms like trilemma and so on have been used for situations involving a choice between three options.
  • 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). Above three, things get more theoretical, with time being one proposed fourth dimension, and others being extrapolations based on the first three (i.e., the fourth dimension being orthogonal to the first 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 independent 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 
    • 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. A related phenomenon would be people referring to the first three dimensions as simply "the third dimension"; it implies the existence of the other two.
    • 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.
  • Disinterested is not a synonym for uninterested; it means, rather, that you are unbiased or have no vested interest. A good judge is disinterested; a tough audience is uninterested, though it wouldn't be unreasonable to be uninterested because you are disinterested.
    • Amusingly, the earliest recorded use of "disinterested" is in the sense that now belongs to "uninterested".
  • Some tropers have described the male counterpart to an Always Female trope as a Distaff Counterpart. Distaff, however, means specifically "female", not simply "gender-switched". This is derived from the distaff, a tool used in the traditionally-feminine job of spinning, as well as the inspiration for the female symbol (♀). The male equivalent would be the "Spear Counterpart".note 
  • A dropkick is either kicking someone with both feet at the same time, or dropping a ball and kicking it after it bounces, depending on whether you're talking about professional wrestling or football. It doesn't mean just any kick that makes someone fall down.
    • Or, in martial arts, an inverted side kick. (Sometimes also an axe-kick.)
  • 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".

E

  • Egonote , 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.
  • Egregious has been used so egregiously on This Very Wiki that it has its own page.
  • 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".)
    • A "nickname" was originally an "eke name", meaning an additional name.
  • To be electrocuted or to suffer electrocution is to be outright killed by an electric shock, not to simply receive one; indeed, the word was coined by Thomas Edison as a portmanteau of "electric" and "execute", after "to westinghouse" failed to catch on (a Take That! against his AC-inventing rival). But because of the confusion the phrase "electrocuted to death" could be used if you want to emphasize that yes, the person died.
    • Similarly, "execute" does not mean to kill but to carry out; The executive branch executes the laws. It also executes capital (death) sentences. Its use to refer to capital punishment is basically a Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness version of organized crime using "do" as a euphemism for killing.
  • 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").
    • In fact, the word "Electric" comes from the old Greek word for amber, a homage to the fact that the first known way to generate elecricity was to rub amber on a woolen cloth. Eventually, people just adopted it as the word for electromagnetic radiation.
  • Emigrate and Immigrate refer to the same concept, but the difference between the two words is that "emigrate" refers to moving out of a country while "immigrate" refers to moving into one. Export and Import are a similar source of confusion regarding objects rather than people. Think of it as like "exhale" and "inhale".
  • Emo: Strictly speaking, emo does not automatically mean anything angsty or brooding. Rather it originated from a genre of music characterized by expressive lyrics both positive and negative. Unfortunately thanks to the Emo Teen stereotype, the word often gets tossed around to denote Wangsty and/or excessive brooding, and can even lead to Unfortunate Implications when used to describe people (usually fictional characters with a Dark and Troubled Past) that suffer from legitimate mental health issues such as depression.
  • Challenging times can make it hard to make ends meet. No food item called ends meat (or end's meat) has ever existed, outside of phonetic incomprehension or stories that end with absolutely horrid puns. Imagine trying to tie a rope or cord around something with insufficient or barely sufficient length (or, conversely, with plentiful length, though it's usually only mentioned in the context of scarcity), and you'll understand the sensation the phrase is meant to convey.
  • Enormity is traditionally defined along the lines of "The great or extreme scale, seriousness, or extent of something generally considered to be morally wrong." It does not simply mean "seriousness", and it certainly doesn't just mean "big." For example, "The policeman grew nauseous as he realized the enormity of the crime" is correct. "The crowd stood in awe at the enormity of the tower" is not, unless the tower is somehow inherently evil.
    • However, enormous lost the meaning of evilness and nowadays just means "very big". Some authorities say the same thing happened to "enormity"; languages change.
    • Speaking of errors this page likes to point out: the policeman may have grown nauseated (stricken with nausea), but probably not nauseous (capable of causing nausea).
  • Entitled means that someone is given a title, authority or rightful ownership of something. Some people however use it as if it meant the opposite, "someone is claiming to deserve something, although he doesn't". Even on TV Tropes - see Entitled Bastard, Entitled to Have You. The usage here refers to an unearned subjective feeling of entitlement, hence the common expression "sense of entitlement" - the person in question feels they deserve something, even though they don't. The correct way to use "entitled" would be saying the person feels or acts like they are entitled to something, not that they are "being" entitled.
  • In cuisine, an entrée is not an appetizer. In traditional French cuisine, the main course was le rotí, which consisted of a roast cut of meat, or a fowl, which was carved at the table, and les entrées were all courses eaten before le rotí. Very few restaurants, even in France, serve rotí-style main courses nowadays, but the tradition of calling the other dishes entrées remains.
    • Note: This only applies to American English. Entrée is the French term for "the dish before the main dish" (while an "appetizer" is an "apéritif"), and Commonwealth English follows modern French usage.
  • Epic refers to "epic poetry," which means narratives that are heroic, majestic, or impressively great. Calling something "epic" is to compare it to the scale of something from an epic narrative ... Which is meaningless if one doesn't know about epic narratives. Since internet culture uses this word to describe anything that is remotely good, that underscores how meaningless it's become. (Of course, great, wonderful, awesome, and excellent have long been similarly misused, so this is par for the course.) It's gotten to the point that there are now backlash sites and entire groups against its misuse.
  • Epicenter literally means "the point ground above the center". It's used specifically for earthquakes—the center of an earthquake is somewhere underground, so the epicenter is the point on the ground directly above the earthquake's center. But because people always heard the word in connection with earthquakes, it's come to have the common meaning "center of something very big and important".
    • Similarly, ground zero literally means "place on the ground below an explosion"—since atomic bombs are usually set to go off in the air for maximum destruction, "ground zero" would be the spot directly below where the bomb went off. But it has come to mean "center of devastation". (During the 90s, the term was often used interchangeably with "square one" to mean "starting point"—as in, "We're going to have to go back to ground zero and start over". But after the 9/11 attacks, when "ground zero" was commonly used to refer to the destroyed World Trade Center site, the term shifted back to something closer to the original meaning.)
  • An epidemic refers to the frequency of a disease substantially exceeding what is expected in recent history.
  • 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. On a side note, it's pronounced "epit-oa-mee", not "epit-oam".
  • One that shows up every now and again is equivocal to mean "equivalent". An equivocal statement is one that is ambiguous and open to interpretation (conversely, an unequivocal statement is one in which the meaning is clear).
  • Erstwhile is not laudatory; it means 'former'.
  • In the context of wrestling, an escape is where one frees themselves from a hold, a counter is where one turns a hold being applied to them into a hold of their own and a reversal is a specific counter that results in you applying the hold your opponent just had you in.
    • The confusion was referenced in Ring of Honor when CM Punk argued he shouldn't have been cost a rope break when he used them to reverse an arm hold applied by AJ Styles instead of using them to as a means of escape. Unfortunately Punk allowed Styles to escape while arguing, weakening his own point and requiring ROH to take another look at the rules.
    • In TNA, Don West had to explain the significance of someone finding a counter to the Canadian destroyer used by Petey William, after the fans had likely seen the move blocked, escaped or otherwise negated dozens of time. Even then, the move itself may never have been countered before but attempts to apply it had.
  • The phrase "more highly evolved" means nothing: evolution doesn't work like a ladder that animals climb to the top. No biologist has thought of it that way since Darwin. You could say that a species that hasn't changed for a few million years is "unevolved" but that would be a rather simplistic way of looking at it. After all evolution is still working on the species, because they aren't changing, evolution is "selecting" for no change. Evolution is always working on a species, unless they reach a very specific and almost impossible set of conditions.
    • Can't we say a species is more or less completely adapted, if its environment has recently changed?
    • The word evolution can mean a lot of different things, from the scientific "natural selection", and "development of life from single-celled organisms to current situation", the same but including emergence of life from non-life, and the less scientific "change over time", "change for the better" or simply "huge change", as used in advertising.
      • Evolution may also refer to specific terms of conditions. If we speak about, say, the operating systems that are meant to be user-friendly and efficient then we can say that better-developed systems are 'more evolved'. In the case of natural selection such judgment makes little sense because that would have required an objective knowledge of the meaning of life which is, as all things objective, beyond the grasp of human mind.
    • Similarly, terms such as devolution, de-evolution, reverse evolution, etc. carry no meaning in biology (although "devolution" carries a separate meaning in politics), since complex forms of life can become less complex and physical traits that were once advantageous can disappear (or remain as vestigial traits) over generations when confronted by a new environment. That doesn't stop the writers of science fiction from occasionally using this term when a member of one species "returns" to an ancestral form, nor does it stop some people from adopting the term to mean "reverse progress."
    • Also: By the millions of years their species have been around with few significant changes, two of the least highly evolved creatures are alligators and sharks. Evolution doesn't have any direction, but once it stumbles on a winning combination, it is really good at sticking with it. Some prominent biologists have used sharks as examples that sapience and intelligence are not evolutionary imperatives, and that they are in fact entirely up to chance.
  • 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.
  • "Excessive" does not mean "a lot" or "a great deal". It means "too much".
  • Exeunt is not a fancy synonym for exit. Etymologically, "exit" is the third-person singular present active indicative of the Latin verb exeō, and "exeunt" its third-person plural present active indicative. Thus, in stage directions, "exit" is used for only one actor (e.g., Exit Hamlet), and "exeunt" for two or more (e.g., Exeunt Romeo and Juliet).
  • Exponentially means "increasing at a rate which is also increasing", not merely "increasing" and certainly not "a lot". Mathematically speaking, "exponentially more" refers only to the difference between the rates of increase of two functions, and has a much more specific meaning than "this is growing faster than that"note  Values that stay the same or increase at steady rate are not, by definition, "exponentially" anything. Most people who say this mean "orders of magnitude greater". An "order of magnitude" is (usually) ten timesnote , so more than one would be 100 times, 1000 times, or more. That said, a quantity that is ten times larger than its starting value after one year, 100 times larger after two years, and 1000 times larger after three, can be said to be growing "exponentially" as the relation between value N and time t is one of N=10^t or N≈44.7e^t.
  • 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 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.

F

  • You may have a family crest, if you can trace your family tree back to European gentry. But the crest is only the bit that stands on top of the helm (like the crest of a jaybird). In most European traditions the essential element is the shield, or escutcheon (in Germany, at some times, the crest(s) got much more emphasis than the shield; but in Romance-speaking countries crests were relatively rarely displayed at all). The full achievement may also include a motto and, for a noble, supporters (a pair of human, animal or monstrous figures standing beside the shield to prop it all up) and perhaps a coronet and pavilion (a fur-lined robe forming a tent around the whole). The original meaning of coat of arms was a tunic worn over armor to keep the sun off, which was painted in the same design as the shield, so the word coat is used for that design or, in the case of a composite shield, each of its quarters.
    • Some popular references claim that each charge (symbol) and tincture (color) has a specific meaning; and some crackpots say the same for each vowel and consonant in a language. The only thing we can be sure of is that arms often make puns (sometimes obscure) on part of the bearer's name. note 
    • In Japan, crest is a fair translation of mon because the primary emblem was displayed on helmets as well as elsewhere.
  • Fascism is a loose political ideology that combines nationalism, militarism, anti-socialism and conservatism (insofar as Fascists and Conservatives can both agree that socialism and liberalism are bad). It's also associated with anti-conservatism (because unlike conservatives they look to the future and not to the past for their ideal end-goal society), futurism, corporatism (i.e. Country-Corporation co-operation), military expansionism, and Social Darwinism. Most modern people and political parties that don't self-identify as "fascist" probably aren't fascists. Definite no-no's include communists, socialists, anarchists, feminists, environmentalists, liberals, inter/anti-nationalists, pacifists, the USA's Republican and Democratic Parties, Youth Hostels, Gandhi, women and dogs.
    • To be more precise, even people showing antisemitic or xenophobic cannot be called "fascists" indiscriminately, as the original fascism introduced in Italy by Mussolini wasn't heavy on xenophobia (fascists' aggression was usually directed towards their internal political enemies, chiefly the Catholic Trade Unions and Socialist Parties). It was German National Socialism ("Nazism" or "Hitlerism") that introduces the ideas of racial superiority.
  • The word factoid is often used as if it meant "little fact" or "trivia," as in "here's a little factoid for you". It actually means "something resembling a fact but with no evidence to support it"note , much like android is 'something that resembles a man'. Amusingly, this can often make the word more appropriate than the speaker's intention.
  • 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.
  • Feminism often gets misused for misandry. Feminism is the advocacy of women's rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men and nothing more. Unfortunately, due to a Vocal Minority of feminists who tend to skew issues into an "us vs them" rhetoric, their advocacy for equality is often conflated with outright hatred for men.
  • Regarding the word fetish, most people use it in the way it's defined on dictionary.com as well as in a few other dictionaries. That is, it's something normally unassociated with sex that that causes "habitual sexual arousal" in the observer and isn't something the fetishist necessarily has to have in order to become aroused. On the other hand, other dictionaries, such as Merriam Webster, explicitly state that it's something that needs to be present in order to arouse the fetishist. Those that use this definition argue that most people who claim to have a fetish actually have a kink instead, as it's rare for it to be that extreme. All of of this, of course, necessarily postdates the original use of the word; i.e., an idol or other artifact to which is ascribed supernatural qualities.
    • To say that you have a "Native American bear fetish" probably does not mean that you experience sexual arousal at the thought of bears belonging to tribes inhabiting the Americas before Europeans arrived (or that you can only be sexually aroused by a large, hairy, bearded gay man descended from one of said tribes). More likely, you have a carving or other artwork done by Native Americans to worship a mystic bear figure. Most likely.
  • 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.—many of which are either derivatives or hybrids of rugby and association football) 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.
    • It also should be mentioned that the British called it soccer first. (No really, it's true.)
  • The original meaning of fornication is "to engage in consensual sexual acts with a person who is not your spouse". In modern usage, the term is often used to describe any form of sex deemed abhorrent by a religious group, such as adultery, homosexuality, bigamy, or various other actions viewed as taboo, something that can vary greatly among cultural lines.
  • To frag someone originally meant to kill someone on your own team. The term originated in the Vietnam War, where it was a term for unpopular soldiers being killed by their fellows (often with a fragmentation grenade, hence the name). The term was later picked up by the Deathmatch mode in Doom, where it popularized and shifted the definition over time towards "First-Person Shooter jargon for a player kill".
  • For United States citizens, Freedom of Speech means a person has the right to criticize and speak out against the government without needing to fear repercussions from said government. It does not mean "I cannot be silenced for saying anything I want to" since you can get in trouble for saying something that implies a threat to someone else (even if you claim to be joking), nor does it allow you to say something offensive on a privately owned web site whose owner(s) have the full right to ban you for breaking their rules.
  • French loan words:
    • French-derived adjectives should retain their French masculine-feminine endings. A woman with flaxen hair is blonde, but a man is blond. More obscurely, and only in English, a man with dark hair is not a brunette but a brunet. It would all be pronounced the same in English, though, where articles don't have gender.
      • In French, "brunette" carries the literal meaning of "little brown-/black-haired girl." A woman who is dark-haired is "brune", and a dark-haired man is "brun". The nouns, "une brune" and "un brun" can also be used, especially with adjectives ("une jolienote  brune"/"un beaunote  brun"). "Blondinette" (blond-haired girl) is an endearment. There is no male equivalent for "brunette".
      • Also, when one is engaged to be married, the proper word depends on the person's gender: a man is a fiancé, whereas a woman is a fiancée. As with other French-derived terms, they may be pronounced exactly the same, but their gender matters.
      • Another place where people often drop the gender declension in English is for words like aviator. Saying "female aviator" is incorrect, the term is "aviatrix."note  Same with "male dominatrix." It's just "dominator."
  • 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.
  • Fundamentalist: Denotes somebody who puts a particular emphasis on the basic tenets of a doctrine as opposed to ideologies that might have a basis in that doctrine but are willing to question some basic tenets. It's really more a statement against revisionism than a statement for tradition and bigotry, it just usually ends up that way. A fundamentalist is, strictly speaking, somebody who emphasizes the fundamentals of an ideology, so it's not hard to see how this purist approach could lend itself to extremism.
    • Similarly, evangelical, in terms like "evangelical doctrine", just means "practicing evangelism". By that definition, many churches are evangelical, even if they don't consider themselves so and don't have the traits that most people consider "evangelical". Unfortunately this word has lost most of its usefulness by coming to mean the kind of church that still condemns dancing, throws fits about interracial marriage, and steadfastly maintains that the world was created in 7 days 6,000 years ago. (And in case you forgot what evangelism is, it means an emphasis on conversion and recruitment, literally to "spread the good news." In this way, even Hindus and Muslims could technically be evangelical, they just wouldn't use this word.) "Evangelical" also shouldn't be assumed to imply "politically conservative"; most evangelicals were on the political left until the 20th century, and some still are.
    • Also, radical means "pertaining to the root" (from radix, the Latin word for "root"), not "extreme". Radical movements seek to make radical (i.e. fundamental) changes in basic social structures, or they attempt a return to the "root" of a movement which they feel has diverged from its original purpose. Of course, radical movements are often prone to extremism.
  • A furry is not the same thing as a zoophile. A zoophile gets off on real animals, while furries like fictional anthropomorphic characters, most of whom would be intelligent enough to consent if they were real.
    • Also, many if not most furries are not interested in the sexual aspect of the fandom at all, they simply like drawing/dressing up as/writing about anthropomorphic animals.
    • The confusion about the definition of the term is not helped by the fact that it is often used interchangeably to refer to both fans of anthropomorphic animal characters and the characters themselves. The especially pedantic may insist on referring to the former as "furry fans" and reserving the term "furry" for the latter, but even that may be confused by the practice of taking on a "fursona," at which point a person is both a furry fan and a self-identified (though not literal) furry (i.e. anthropomorphic animal).

G

  • Gay originally meant something closer to carefree, with undertones of being unrestricted by social conventions. Later on, it was used to describe sexually active women, who were most definitely of the kind referred to as 'straight' today. It now describes homosexuals and is technically gender-neutral but mostly used for men. Some people that use Gay as an insult and are called out on it attempt to weasel out of the mess by saying they were using the "happy" version of the word.
  • Gene is often used to mean "allele". An allele is one of multiple forms a gene assumes. For example, there is no human gene for brown hair; there's a gene for hair color in general, and one of its alleles results in brown hair. A valuable distinction for biologists, but not one that most people care about when they're at the movies.
  • Geneva Conventions are the international conventions binding their signatories to observe specific conduct toward refugees, captives and prisoners in the time of war. It has nothing to do with the agreement to abstain from the use of some types of weapons as this subject is covered by the Hague Conventions.
  • There is some debate regarding the origin of the word ghetto, with one theory saying that it originated from the Venetian Ghetto. At one point in history, it referred the part of Venice 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. And, of course, the original ghettoes were what many Americans would call "suburbs" nowadays (as, indeed, they still are in Europe), whereas the typical American ghetto now is located in the "inner city."
    • 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 because it was arguably the original Jewish quarter of the city (However, 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.
  • Piloted Humongous Mecha are typically called Giant Robots despite the textbook definition of robot being "an autonomous device".
    • This goes for smaller ones too, like the machines in Battlebots and Robot Wars being remote-controlled rather than autonomous.
  • Gimmick originally meant something that is designed to draw in attraction and amusement. People today now use gimmick as way of saying "this has a gimmick, therefore, it sucks." While there can be misuse of gimmicks that make it bad overall, most people that slam something for being gimmicky or relying on a gimmick do so because there's a gimmick and not because the gimmick itself was bad.
  • Good vs Well. Good is an adjective. Well is an adverb. You look good, because good is describing you. You see well, because well is describing how you see. (You can look well, but in that cause 'well' is being used as measure of health, i.e. the opposite of 'You look ill'.)
    • You can also correctly use 'look well' for 'look carefully', or 'look skillfully'. Similarly, the above could correctly describe a product that as part of its function interprets visual data. (A robot or something; if it's solely a camera, then its working is synonymous with its looking, and so it's still incorrect.)
    • In 30 Rock, Tracy Jordan even corrected the resident Harvard grad in the first episode: "No, Superman does good. You do well."
  • To draw from a Biblical parable, a Good Samaritan is someone who helps even those that persecute him. In Biblical times the Samaritans were an ethno-religious group that was shunned heavily by the Jewish people. This was the entire purpose of the parable: a Samaritan saved the life of a dying Jew, thereby proving that goodness is not constrained by ethnic, cultural, or religious boundaries; even people you hate can do good, and you should still do good even for people who hate you. However, due to a lack of context, many people simply assume "Good Samaritan" to mean any person who does good deeds for any reason. Even worse, some people drop the "good" and just use "Samaritan" to refer to any good person, even though it originally meant the opposite. To put it in a more nerdy way: the X-Men, who fight to protect humanity even though humans despise them, are Good Samaritans. Superman, however, is not a Good Samaritan because he rarely if ever faces public persecution.
    • Furthermore, considering the ethnic/religious group known as the Samaritans still exists, calling someone a "Samaritan" is the same thing as saying that they are a part of this group. Calling someone a "Good Samaritan" could be considered the same as calling someone a "Good Jew" or even a "Good African." Not necessarily an insult, per se, but still very likely to offend some people.
    • A Good Samaritan Law is not a law which compels someone to help a person in jeopardy. That is a Duty To Rescue law. A Good Samaritan law grants legal protection to anyone who attempts to help another person in the midst of a crisis. There have indeed been cases where someone offering aid was later sued by the person they attempted to help.
  • The use of Gothic to mean "dark and spooky" dates only to the late eighteenth century; the word originally was not supposed to conjure up ghost stories, let alone the punk, heavy metal, and emo genres of music. On the contrary, "Gothic" architecture first appeared in northern France in the twelfth century (in the town of Chartres, specifically), and - paradoxically enough - was originally conceived to allow stained-glass windows in church to admit more natural light. Earlier than that, the Goths were an ethnic group: a people living in eastern Europe and speaking a language distantly related to German; they even had their own alphabet for a time.
    • The use of "Gothic" to refer to Tim Burton and/or Batman also merits discussion. Burton is not truly Gothic; if he were, his movies would be completely inappropriate for children and might even come close to being banned in American markets, for Gothic literature was the hardcore pornography of its time, with plenty of torture and sexual perversion. Burton is more of a satirical post-modernist with a Black Comedy streak. And to call Batman "Gothic" is even further from the older definition: the phrase "Gothic hero" is an oxymoron, since Gothic characters are always villainous at worst and (to some extent) sexually perverse at best, neither of which can be applied to Batman (and lest we forget, the original Gothic protagonist, in Milton's Paradise Lost, was Satan himself!); Batman is closer to an "existentialist" (an adherent of the philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre, and less directly Ayn Rand and Nietzsche) - a similarly dark worldview, but one in which heroism is possible.
  • Occasionally, a law-enforcement officer will refer to the scene of a brutal crime as being very "graphic". Well, duh, you're there and you're looking at it, one would expect it to be visual and realistic instead of merely implied. The idea of "graphic" violence in media isn't that it's Gorn, just that it's shown onscreen rather than implied.
  • Guns:
    • There is a famous (for a given value of "famous") poem by Lt. Col. Jeff Cooper, inventor of the "modern technique" of handgun combat:
      A clip is not a magazine
      A mag is not a clip
      Neither is a grip a stock
      And "stock" does not mean "grip".

      I do not mean to nitpick
      But improvement might be seen
      If we could bring ourselves to say
      Exactly what we mean.
      • A clip and a magazine are often used interchangeably, but military terminology is that a clip feeds a magazine (or the cylinder of a revolver) quickly; a magazine feeds into the weapon itself. A removable magazine is often referred to as a clip even by military sources, however.
      • This was highlighted early in 2014 when a California state senator delivered a press conference tirade where he kept using "30 calibre clip" and "30 magazine clip" to characterize the supposed firing speed of a gun.
      • A stock is the part of a rifle, shotgun, or occasionally SMG or pistol that is braced against the shoulder; a grip is the part that is actually, well, gripped—it's specifically the part of the gun that is held by the hand that pulls the trigger, and includes the trigger itself (though sometimes also used as a shortened form of "foregrip", the part of a long gun that is held by the off-hand to steady the weapon). The stock and grip are together part of the receiver, the framework that holds the whole thing together (often called a frame on handguns).
      • To make things more confusing, in most classic rifles (i.e. non-automatic), a stock refers to the large wooden (or plastic) part all the metal parts (barrel, bolt and trigger assembly) are connected to. In this case, a part of stock behind the grip that is put against shooter's shoulder would be a 'butt'.
      • A bullet is the metal slug fired from a gun. A cartridge or round is the unfired ammunition. A casing is the spent part of the cartridge ejected otherwise. Referring to unfired cartridges as bullets is a classic error. Similarly, shot is what's fired from a shotgun. Shell can be both the unfired ammo and the spent casing.
      • To be extra confusing, old style cannon fired shot (solid projectiles) and shells (explosive projectiles). Explosive projectiles are still called shells.
      • A barrel is the tube a bullet travels down when fired; before firing, the bullet sits (contained in a cartridge, see above) in a chamber. Revolvers have multiple chambers which rotate in a cylinder; other guns load their chambers (or "chamber rounds") from their magazines.
      • For small arms, caliber means the width of the barrel at the narrowest point. "High caliber" is not, in fact, a way of saying "high power". E.g. A 7.62x39mm round fired from an AKM will not impart as much energy to a target as a 7.62x54mm round fired from a SVD Dragunov, nor will the 9x19mm Parabellum round impart as much energy as the 7.62x25mm Tokarev round.
      • Another way to think of it is that a "high caliber bullet" will generally be fired from a bigger gun. However, caliber has nothing to do with strength by itself - if anything, the length of the cartridge (i.e. how much space there is in the casing for gunpowder behind the bullet) has more to do with the energy the bullet imparts on a target than the diameter of the bullet. If you're trying to say that a high caliber hand gun is more powerful than a low caliber rifle, chances are that you're wrong. Unless you want to get into the specifics of grain count, rifling twist, bullet velocity and weight, you're better off assuming that handguns are less powerful than rifles.
      • To put it another way, "caliber" is absolutely not the same thing as "stopping power". A small-caliber bullet fired from a high-powered rifle is a lot more likely to kill you than a large-caliber bullet fired at a much slower speed — the latter bulldozes its way through the entire region via hydrostatic shock; the former punctures its way through a narrow path. Kinetic energy is a function of the mass times the square of the speed.
      • On the same subject, bore and caliber are not necessarily interchangeable. Traditionally for rifled weaponry, especially rifled artillery, "bore" denotes the number of turns in the number of calibers (i.e. how many times the width of the projectile down the barrel the projectile must travel to have one complete turn imparted on it by the rifling). So a rifled late Victorian artillery piece with one turn per 38 calibers is a 38 bore, but a smoothbore early Victorian cannon is a zero bore. To confuse matters further, in the UK the word "bore" is also used to mean the same as "gauge" in regards to shotguns: a measure of barrel diameter based upon the weight of a solid lead ball that will fit perfectly into the barrel, expressed as the denominator of a vulgar fraction of a pound if the numerator is one. Thus if the largest lead ball you can fit into the shotgun barrel weighs one twelfth of a pound, you have a 12-bore (or, in the US, 12-guage) shotgun.
      • To confuse matters, there are two separate meanings of the phrase "high-caliber," one of which means larger bullets, and the older of which means "fits the mold ideally." Therefore in other usage, higher caliber always means "better," but in guns it's just a straight technical term with no better/worse meaning.
      • To confuse the situation even further, the term caliber is also used to indicate barrel length of artillery pieces, especially naval artillery. So when one refers to a 5"/ 38 caliber gun, one is referring to a gun with a barrel that is one caliber, or 5", internal diameter, and 38 calibers, or 190" long.
      • Point-blank does not mean "at very close range". Point-blank refers to the maximum distance between a firearm and its target before one's aim needs to be adjusted for elevation. Of course, for field artillery or naval guns designed to launch shells in long parabolic arcs, that is quite a close range. For handguns or rifles, not so much.
  • Ever since Dashiell Hammett used gunsel as a way of Getting Crap Past the Radar, countless crime writers have used it to mean "gunman". Good luck with finding a straight use of the original meaning — a submissive male homosexual — these days. And, for that matter, "hired gun" originally referred to any sort of criminal, not just an assassin, and the "gun" part came from the Yiddish ganef ("thief"). Furthermore, "gun moll", a combination of the previous word and Molly, the stereotypical name for an Irish woman, originally meant not "lady with a gun", but "lady who hung out with thieves."
Top

How well does it match the trope?

Example of:

/

Media sources:

/

Report