8 Common Words You’re Probably Using Incorrectly


Sometimes, words become misconstrued and thus misused over time. What’s the enormity of the problem? Well, maybe, it’s not a problem, but simply an opportunity to refine our lexicon?

However, enormity isn’t the right word to describe this situation. Like all the words on today’s list, enormity’s primary definition isn’t what you think. Enormity has come to mean “hugeness” or “immensity,” like enormousness, but it actually means “atrociousness.” The enormity of a person’s act is the heinousness, not the scale, of the action.

Click ahead for more surprising definitions of commonly confused words.  


Maybe it’s the re- prefix that makes it so easy to mistakenly pair redundant with repetitive. It also doesn’t help that the word sounds like “re-done-dant,” as in “I’ve already done that, so I don’t need to redo it.” Rather than “redoing,” redundant relates to “over-doing.”

Tracing back to its medieval origins, redundant means “overflowing” in Latin. A good example of redundant can refer to writing, especially when it is verbose, overwrought, and tedious. And with that, we’ll move on to our next slide.


“That poor boy lost his father. What a travesty.” Many people would understand the speaker to mean tragedy, because the loss of a loved one is a tragic circumstance. However, travesty is not a synonym for tragedy, and the distinction between the terms is well worth remembering. Travesty means “a grotesque or debased likeness or imitation.” For those who understand this meaning, misusing travesty in place of tragedy could result in seriously offending the listener.

However, if someone’s in a sham of a relationship, you could describe it as a travesty and tragedy and be just fine. Hopefully, it’s not you!


People often confuse chronic with acute or severe when describing painful symptoms. A chronic condition may be accompanied by sharp or acute pain, but not necessarily so. Related to the Greek chronos (“time”) and chronikos (“concerning time”), chronic means “constant,” “continual,” “lasting a long time,” and “recurring frequently.” Chronic and acute are commonly used in a medical context, but they have more general applications as well. If a lover’s tryst resulted in heartbreak, the emotional pain would be acute at first, but it would go away over time. A chronic controversy is an issue still in need of resolution, such as many political debates about marriage and birth control.


Disinterested is a usual suspect in the lineup of easily-confused words. The dis– prefix invokes both the hardened sense of “not interested” (as in disapprove, dislike) and “dissing” (disparage, dismiss). But, the primary definition of this word is actually unrelated to the expression of selfish, negative emotions. In fact, it’s associated with the state of being unbiased, or “not influenced by selfish motives.”

A disinterested person may very well be interested and curious about a matter at hand, but he or she doesn’t wish to take sides with the issue or show prejudice through personal motivations. For clarity, a person who doesn’t take an interest in something is simply “not interested.”

i.e. / e.g.

More confusing than Stephen Hawking’s theories, i.e. and e.g. take the cake of this slideshow.

In Latin, i.e. stands for id est, meaning “that is.” It is used whenever you want to restate (in different words) the point you’re trying to make. Think of i.e. as in other words and use the i in in to remember how to use it. “My stomach is making growling sounds, i.e., (“in other words”) I’m hungry.”

And, e.g. stands for exempli gratia, or “for the sake of example.” You can remember how to use this correctly by thinking of “example give,” the strange-sounding reverse of “give [an] example.” “My stomach is making growling sounds, e.g., (“for example”) gurgles, plops, swishes, and bleets.”


Oddly enough (or is it ironic?), Alanis Morissette’s song “Ironic” contains no irony. Maybe that’s the point. However, “Ironic” leads people who seek meaning and truth in lyrics (especially just at a surface level) to mistake coincidence, bad luck, and worse luck for irony. Odd coinky-dinks aren’t ironic, nor is every twist of fate.

Instead, an ironic statement is one where literal words are used to convey an opposite meaning, i.e., (see what we did here) saying one thing but implying something else. If Sunny, who only adores warm weather, walks outside in the freezing cold and exclaims, “Oh, how I love beautiful days like this!” . . . that’s ironic.


The primary definition of peruse does not mean “to skim or glance,” which people so often associate with the term. So many people have used this term wrong, it’s now made it into the dictionary! That’s impressive.

However, the underlying and long-standing definition relates to the “leisurely” pace of reading a document as the reader takes the time to thoroughly review what’s been written. Based on the Middle English use of per meaning “completely,” peruse has meant to “read carefully” since the 1500s.

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