27 September 2023

Misused words that can make you look thoughtless

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Travis Bradberry* lists some easily confused words which, if used wrongly, can have people sniggering behind your back.

We’re often tempted to use words we’re not too familiar with.

We throw them around in meetings, emails and important documents (such as resumes and client proposals).

They land, like fingernails across a chalkboard, on everyone who has to hear or read them.

No matter how talented you are or what you’ve accomplished, using words incorrectly can forever cast you in a negative light.

You may not think it’s a big deal, but if your language is driving people up the wall you need to do something about it.

It’s the words that we think we’re using correctly that wreak the most havoc, because we don’t even realise how poorly we’re coming across.

After all, more than two million people have taken my emotional intelligence test and I’ve found that self-awareness is the area where most people score the lowest.

We’re all guilty of this from time to time, myself included.

When I write, I hire an editor to review my articles before I post them online.

It’s bad enough to have a roomful of people witness your blunder and something else entirely to stumble in front of 100,000.

Often, it’s the words we perceive as being more ‘correct’ or sophisticated that catch us by surprise when they don’t really mean what we think they do.

These words have a tendency to make even really smart people stumble.

Ironic vs. Coincidental

A lot of people get this wrong.

If you break your leg the day before a ski trip, that’s not ironic — it’s coincidental (and bad luck).

Ironic has several meanings, all of which include some type of reversal of what was expected.

Verbal irony is when a person says one thing but clearly means another.

Situational irony is when a result is the opposite of what was expected.

  1. Henry was a master of situational irony.

In his The Gift of the Magi, Jim sells his watch to buy combs for his wife’s hair, and she sells her hair to buy a chain for Jim’s watch.

Each character sold something precious to buy a gift for the other, but those gifts were intended for what the other person sold.

That is true irony.

Affect vs. Effect

To make these words even more confusing than they already are, both can be used as either a noun or a verb.

Let’s start with the verbs.

Affect means to influence something or someone; effect means to accomplish something.

“Your job was affected by the organisational restructuring” but “these changes will be effected on Monday.”

As a noun, an effect is the result of something: “The sunny weather had a huge effect on sales.”

It’s almost always the right choice because the noun affect refers to an emotional state and is rarely used outside of psychological circles: “The patient’s affect was flat.”

Lie vs. Lay

We’re all pretty clear on the lie that means an untruth.

It’s the other usage that trips us up.

Lie also means to recline: “Why don’t you lie down and rest?” Lay requires an object: “Lay the book on the table.”

Lie is something you can do by yourself, but you need an object to lay.

It’s more confusing in the past tense.

The past tense of lie is — you guessed it — lay: “I lay down for an hour last night.”

The past tense of lay is laid: “I laid the book on the table.”

Bring vs. Take

Bring and take both describe transporting something or someone from one place to another, but the correct usage depends on the speaker’s point of view.

Somebody brings something to you, but you take it to somewhere else: “Bring me the mail, then take your shoes to your room.”

If the movement is toward you, use bring; if the movement is away from you, use take.

Accept vs. Except

These two words sound similar but have very different meanings.

Accept means to receive something willingly: “His mother accepted his explanation”.

Except signifies exclusion: “I can attend every meeting except the one next week.”

Farther vs. Further

Farther refers to physical distance, while further describes the degree or extent of an action or situation.

“I can’t run any farther,” but “I have nothing further to say.”

If you can substitute ‘more’ or ‘additional’, use further.

Nauseous vs. Nauseated

Nauseous has been misused so often that the incorrect usage is accepted in some circles.

Still, it’s important to note the difference.

Nauseous means causing nausea; nauseated means experiencing nausea.

So, if your circle includes ultra-particular grammar sticklers, never say “I am nauseous” unless you want them to be snickering behind your back.

English grammar can be tricky and, a lot of times, the words that sound right are actually wrong.

With words such as those above, you just have to memorise the rules so that when you are about to use them, you’ll catch yourself in the act.

*Travis Bradberry is the award-winning co-author of the bestselling book, Emotional Intelligence 2.0, and the co-founder of TalentSmart. He can be contacted at talentsmart.com.

This article first appeared at talentsmart.com.

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