Misleading Terms You’ve Been Using Wrong (For Good Reason)

No, Vomitoriums Aren’t Rooms for Puking

As much as it might strain your logical reasoning, a vomitorium isn’t the name for the co-ed bathroom of Club Twerkolate at 4 a.m. The word has nothing to do with vomiting, either from YOLO excess or Yersinia enterocolitica (the hideous unpronounceable bacteria in bad meat).

Vomitoriums (actually vomitoria for more than one) were amphitheater passageways in Ancient Rome. You might be surprised to learn there are quite a few of these not-so-nasty words that are desperate for some redemption. 

Crapulous

If this word was literally about crap or poop, it wouldn’t be on this list. That said, it is about the metaphorical kind of crap, as in feeling “crappy” after a night at Club Twerkolate. But there’s a twist.

Crapulous is a crazy word meaning “characterized by excessive drinking or eating and suffering from that excess.” So, raging partiers twerking up a storm are crapulous when they’re having fun on YOLO night AND crapulous when they’re puking in their toilets the morning after. Impressive!

Funambulist

Sounds like an ambulance driver having fun during off-hours. But actually, a funambulist is a tightrope walker. Since Ancient Greece, extreme artists have been figuring out how to put the “fun” in funambulating. Like Maria Spelterini, who in the 1800s was the first woman to cross Niagara Falls on tightrope — with shackled ankles and wrists. 

Noisome

While not a variation of noisy, if you think of loud sounds as offensive to your ears, whatever would be offensive to your nose is what noisome refers to. In the most general terms, noisome means “offensive or disgusting,” but it often relates to odors. Rotten, putrid and stinking are all good synonyms.

Pulchritude

Impossibly, this word that sounds perfect for the hideous “boo hag” in Princess Bride (“Rubbish! Filth! Slime! Muck!”), means the opposite of uglyPulchritude describes fair Buttercup, or any other woman possessing “physical beauty and loveliness.” Pulcher once meant “beautiful,” but it lost currency over time, probably because humanity wanted to forget all about the ugly-sounding word.

Fungible

Fungible (which rhymes with sponge-ible) only indirectly applies to fun and sponges. It's a term related to commodities. A commodity that’s fungible is interchangeable with any other commodity of the same type. But what does that mean?

Ok, money is fungible. You loan a friend $20, but your friend can pay you back with any other $20 bill minted by the US government…or two $10s, or any combination that adds up to $20; it doesn’t have to be the same $20 you loaned (otherwise, you guys are uselessly passing a bill back and forth). What’s not fungible is your car; you loan your car to your friend, you expect your friend to park that same car in the garage a couple days from now, not some jalopy from the junkyard.

Callipygian

How cute is this word! Imagining California pigeons soaring in the breeze over Coronado Beach? You’ve got the utterly wrong impression of what this word means. Callipygian actually describes the very fortunate condition of “having a well-shaped buttocks.” A high-minded substitute for “badonkadonk,” “cutie-ba-bootie”, and “dat ass.”

Nonplussed

Whether it’s that nonplussed sounds sort of like unfussed and unmussed (which aren’t words, but they make perfect sense), or it’s that a lot of people just don’t know or remember what the heck this word means, nonplussed is a stumper. And it’s not synonymous with “unfazed” or “unruffled,” as many are inclined to think.

If anything, this word has more to do with being “fussed” or “fazed.” Nonplussed means “utterly perplexed”; things or events are so confusing they don’t make any sense.

 

Lackaday

With no relation to those lazy, lackadaisical days you spend binging chips and Netflix, lackaday refers to a sadder state of being. The expression’s no longer used, but it was once an interjection of remorse or grief, “Ah, lackaday!” Or, in other words, “alack (or woe) be the day!”

Ignoscency

“You ignorant ignoramus full of ignoscency!” This statement isn’t entirely mean. It’s only 67% insulting because ignoscency is an old word for “forgiveness.” Listen, ignorance is unsettling, blissful, and dangerous all in one, but forgiveness is one of the best qualities a person can have—no matter if they think ivy league means “unsurpassed education” or “sports team for plants.”

Restive

The last thing a person wants at the end of a horrible day is a restive night’s sleep. Replace –ful with –ive and prepare for a night of tossing, turning, sweating, and nightmaring. Restive means “restless or uneasy.” It’s also used to describe people (or animals) who are stubborn, resistant, or refusing to move forward. So, as usual, English throws a wrench in things.

Impregnable

“You’re looking very impregnable today” would be less of a foot-in-mouth moment than “Oh my gosh, when are you due?” said to a woman who’s not pregnant. That is, of course, only if the woman knows what impregnable means, and if she doesn’t, then it sounds REALLY bad!

Impregnable actually means “strong enough to resist attack,” and no—of course you’d never use this word as a compliment. Maybe to Daenarys Targyen or The Incredible Hulk, but not to a real person. Impregnable more often describes buildings, strongholds, and other physical structures built for protection.

Nugatory

Speaking of deliciousness, nugatory has to be related to scrumptious nuggets of nougat, right?—that chewy sweet confection in Milky Way bars? Oh mama. So much value right there! But not with the word nugatory, which means “trifling or worthless.” Nugatory isn’t a commonly used word, but because it punches up the volume on “worthless,” it’s worth bringing back. Just remember, negatory things are nugatory!

Superfluous

Energy drinks and coffee are indeed super fluids, but not necessarily superfluous. Superfluous is also not a complimentary word—a crotchety building superintendent who won’t fix the clogged shower demonstrates that not everything “super” is great. Superfluous actions are excessive, unnecessary, or needless. The silver-screen legend Ingrid Bergman said it best: “A kiss is a lovely trick designed by nature to stop speech when words become superfluous.”