Avoid these seven commonly misused words

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As mentioned in the blog recently, using the word ‘suppository’ when you really mean ‘repository’ is an extremely unfortunate faux pas. 

According to Harvard University linguist, Steven Pinker, there are some usual suspects in the English language that unfailingly trip people up. And some not so usual ones.

Here are seven commonly misused words that sometimes even catch me out.

  1. Adverse and averse. Adverse refers to hardship or a detrimental outcome. Averse means you don’t like something. Try to remember the ‘d’ in adverse refers to ‘detrimental’.
  2. Disinterested and uninterested. Disinterest refers to impartiality or lack of any bias. You want someone who is disinterested to settle an argument. An uninterested person couldn’t care less about your argument and probably won’t hang around to hear your side of the story.
  3. Enormity – it sounds like enormous but it actually means extreme evil or wickedness! It’s most commonly used when referring to great size – but this is regarded as incorrect by many academics (including Steven Pinker).
  4. Flaunt and flout. To flaunt is to show-off; to flout is to break the rules.
  5. Irregardless is often used in error when someone means ‘regardless’ or ‘irrespective’. It is most definitely not a word, but a mistake.
  6. Lie is a particularly curly one. You can lie down and recline; a hen can lay an egg or the table can be laid; and to tell a lie is to speak an untruth.
  7. Simplistic responses to a question are naïve, not complete and potentially inaccurate. On the other hand, a simple response is straightforward and easily understood.

Some of the rules in our language can be contentious – and sometimes common usage bends the rules. I must admit, I've used 'enormity' to describe a mammoth task rather than wickedness. So even someone working with language every day should take the time to brush up on usage.