A language fail is the worst kind of fail, especially if you’re a public speaker or a writer. From Travis Bradberry’s list of 20 commonly misused English words here’s the ones that trip me up the most, with clear easy-to-understand descriptions:
Ironic vs. Coincidental
Bradberry writes: 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).
Also coincidental is the pouring rain on your wedding day, or a traffic jam when you’re late, as Alanis Morrisette sings in “Isn’t it Ironic.” Bradberry explains:
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.
In O. Henry’s famous short story “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.
If you break your leg the day before a ski trip, that’s coincidental.
If you drive up to the mountains to ski, and there was more snow back at your house, that’s ironic.
I suppose the only way rain on your wedding day would be ironic is if you planned the wedding for a particular date because the Farmer’s Almanac said it would be sunny.
This second word mix up is one I usually get right, but wasn’t quite sure why. Now I understand:
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; nauseatedmeans experiencing nausea. So, if your circle includes ultra-particular grammar sticklers, never say “I’m nauseous” unless you want them to be snickering behind your back.
Words that may trip YOU up:
Travis Bradberry, President of TalentSmart, also defines the differences between:
Affect and Effect
Lie and Lay
Bring and Take
Imply and Infer
Comprise and Compose
Farther and Further
and Fewer and Less
You can read about these commonly misused words and rate your knowledge here.
Linda K. Sienkiewicz is the author of In the Context of Love, a 2016 Eric Hoffer Book Award Finalist.
Angelica Schirrick had always suspected there was something deeply disturbing about her family, but the truth was more than she bargained for.