Misleading Meanings of English Words

(words that don't mean what they look like or what many people assume that they should mean)

aquiline (AK wuh lign, AK wuh lin) (adjective), more aquiline, most aquiline
1. Of, relating to, or having the characteristics of an eagle.
2. Resembling a curved hook like that of an eagle's beak.
cupidity (kyoo PID i tee)
Excessive desire; especially, for wealth; covetousness or avarice.
disinterested (dis IN tuhr ist, dis IN trist)
Free of bias and self-interest; impartial.

In traditional usage, disinterested can only mean "having no stake in an outcome": "Since the judge stands to profit from the sale of the company, he can't be considered a disinterested party in this legal dispute."

Despite critical disapproval, "disinterested" has come to be widely used by many educated writers to mean "uninterested" or "having lost interest".

enervate (EN uhr vayt")
1. To weaken or to destroy the strength or vitality of.
2. Deprived of strength; debilitated.

Sometimes people mistakenly use enervate with the meaning "to invigorate" or "to excite". Too many people assume that this word is a close cousin of the verb energize.

In fact enervate does not come from the same source as "energize" which is from Greek energos, "active". It actually comes from Latin nervus, "sinew" and so enervate means "to cause to become out of muscle"; that is, "to weaken" or "to deplete of strength".

enormity (i NOR mi tee)
1. The quality of passing all moral bounds; excessive wickedness or outrageousness.
2. A monstrous offense or evil; an outrage.

Enormity is frequently misused to refer simply to the property of being great in size or extent, but there are many who prefer that "enormousness" (or a synonym such as "immensity") be used for this general sense and that enormity be limited to situations that demand a "negative moral judgment".

This distinction between enormity and "enormousness" has not always existed historically, but nowadays many observe it.

friable (FRIGH uh buhl)
Readily crumbled; brittle: "The builders used friable asbestos insulation in the new house."
fulsome (FUHL suhm) (adjective), more fulsome, most fulsome
1. Flattering or insincere in an offensive way: "Roy thought his neighbors were embarrassingly fulsome in expressing their appreciation for taking care of their mail delivery while they were away on vacation."
2. A reference to a large size or quantity; plentiful; generous or abundant: "The farmers were happy to have a fulsome harvest despite the severe winter conditions that existed earlier in the year."

"Ted's parents served him a fulsome meal to celebrate his birthday."

"The original meaning of fulsome was "full, abundant", but the dominant sense of the word currently is conveying offensive to the senses or sensibility."

Descriptive of excessive numbers or quantities.
© ALL rights are reserved.

Go to this Word A Day Revisited Index
so you can see more of Mickey Bach's cartoons.

herpetology (hur" pi TAHL uh jee)
The branch of zoology that deals with reptiles and amphibians.
hippophobia (hip" oh FOH bee uh)
1. Hippophobia is a psychological fear of horses.
2. Sufferers of hippophobia usually experience an anxiety of approaching horses.
infinitesimal (in" fin i TES uh muhl)
Very small in number, amount, or degree.
inflammable (in FLAM uh buhl)
Easily ignited and capable of burning rapidly; flammable.

Historically, flammable and inflammable meant the same thing; however, the presence of the prefix in- has misled many people into assuming that inflammable means "not flammable" or "noncombustible".

The prefix in inflammable is not, however, the Latin negative prefix in-, which is related to the English un- and appears in such words as "indecent" and "inglorious".

Instead, this in- is an intensive prefix derived from the Latin preposition in and it also appears in the word enflame, but many people are not aware of this derivation, and for clarity's sake it is advisable to use only "flammable" to give any kind of warnings about burning or catching on fire.

Burn, flammable; or not burn, inflammable.
Word Info image © ALL rights reserved.

ingenuous (in JEN yoo uhs)
1. Showing innocence and a lack of worldly experience, cunning, guile, or worldliness.
2. Openly straightforward or frank; candid.
meretricious (mer" i TRISH uhs) (adjective), more meretricious, most meretricious
1. Showily but falsely attractive: The advertisement used for the car was meretricious, a lot o flash, but very deceptive.
2. Based on pretense; deceptively pleasing: In old novels, the villain frequently uses meretricious compliments to seduce the innocent heroine.
noisome (NOI suhm)
1. Offensive to the point of arousing disgust; foul: "There was a noisome odor from the garbage container."
2. Harmful or dangerous: "The noisome fumes from the container could cause serious harm to those who those living in the house."
penultimate (pi NUL tuh mit, pin UL tuh mit)
Next to the last.

Etymology: from Latin paene, "almost" and ultimus, "last".

Also see this Index or Menu for a variety of other topics.