Right, the time has come for a very small blog post about misused words. It’s fine to misuse words, except that by misusing them, you’re not using them correctly (!). I’m an editor, yes, but I’m not a Words Nazi, even though in previous occupations that was what my in-house “affectionate” label was. I’m merely posting this because some people might find it useful.
The list is far from complete; since sitting down to write this, I can’t think of everything I wanted to add. If I recall them, I shall add them.
If you regularly find other misused words, please add them to the comments at the bottom. I’m always interested in people’s pet annoyances where words are concerned.
Misused word: Lay
How this is commonly misused: “Still laying in bed”
Many old-school editors will reply to the above sentiment with, ‘laying what? An egg?’
Lay, in its past tense form (as in, ‘I lay in bed all afternoon’) is correct; otherwise the correct usage is ‘still lying in bed’. When you lay, you (most often) put or place [a thing] in a place of rest: to lay a book on a table. It is not an active form. You lie about, you don’t lay about.
Misused word: foul
How this is commonly misused: “One foul swoop”
The phrase, one foul swoop, is a moden misuse of the old phrase one fell swoop; the latter form, however, is the correct one.
The word fell properly means fierce, cruel, dreadful.
Foul, on the other hand, means grossly offensive, disgustingly loathsome, noisome.
Misspelled word: definitely
Most common misspelling: definately
While one might pronounce definitely as though it were definately, it is not spelled that way. You might pronounce knight as though it were night, but you would not write Nights of the Round Table. This word, definitely, is a pet-hate of mine where misspellings are concerned, because it occurs extremely commonly. If you’re a native English speaker, please get this one right. For me?
Misused word: stylings
How this is commonly misused: this is not actually a word
While the word styling is itself a word, the plural form does not exist. The word style is declined as follows: to style, have styled, be styling. I find this word most commonly conjured up in music journalism, but heads-up guys: it is not a word. If you are going to be discussing the form of something, please find another way of doing it! The vocal styles is correct; the vocal stylings is not.
Misused word: plummetting
How this is commonly misused: ‘The country’s plummetting health’
This word is often used in the sense of the phrase rapidly declining; however, it is incorrect to do so. A plummet is something that weighs down or depresses. It also means to plunge; but I suggest that if you are thinking of its use in terms of rapidly declining, use the phrase rapidly declining. It’s a lot clearer to everybody what you mean.