Special Report

33 Words People Misuse All the Time

Source: 24/7 Wall St.

1. Adverse

If you don’t want to do something, you’re averse — not adverse — to it. “Averse” means having a strong feeling of distaste, or an aversion, towards something. As in, “I’m averse to spending $20 on a martini.” Something adverse is contrary or harmful to your intentions, interests, or condition, as in “We went sailing under adverse conditions” or “He had an adverse reaction to the antibiotic.”

Source: 24/7 Wall St.

2. Appraise

Have you ever been appraised of a situation? No. To appraise is to estimate the value or importance of something. Those folks on “Antiques Roadshow” appraise stuff every week — sometimes, regrettably, having to apprise — that is, inform — their guests of the unfortunate fact that the items they’ve brought for appraisal aren’t worth a dime.

Source: 24/7 Wall St.

3. Bemused

There’s a big gap between “amuse” and “bemuse.” You amuse somebody when you divert or entertain them and make them smile or laugh. You’d think that somebody thus diverted or entertained might be bemused, but that would happen only if you amused them in a strange or confusing way. To be bemused is to be puzzled, bewildered, or distracted.

Source: 24/7 Wall St.


A few examples from online articles of the misuse of this word are: “A whole contingency of people,” “a whole contingency of forensic specialists,” “a whole contingency of hierarchy-enhancing ideologies.” These are all by authors who ought to know better. A contingency is something that might happen: “We were prepared for every contingency.” The people who wrote the examples cited here should have used a nearly identical word: “contingent,” which means a representative group or deputation as in, “He was met by a contingent of supporters.”

Source: 24/7 Wall St.

5. Dilemma

We think of a dilemma as a serious predicament or a situation in which we are forced to make a difficult choice — and modern English, versatile as it is, has begun to accept that definition. But the “di-” in the word means “two” or “twice,” and a true dilemma is a choice between two mutually unpleasant or unacceptable alternatives.