Pretty frequently, I’ll be writing away—minding my own business—when a meme will surface in my mind: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.“
At such moments, I’ll sigh, head to the search box, and look up the word to make sure it means what I think it means. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t. I’m always glad I checked, though.
I dug back through my search history to find some words I’ve looked up recently:
- Antibody. “A large Y-shaped protein produced by B-cells that is used by the immune system to identify and neutralize foreign objects such as bacteria and viruses.” I was trying to use the word metaphorically, and wanted to make sure that it basically meant “thing that identifies unwanted intruders.”
- Squalid. ”Extremely dirty and unpleasant.” I typed the word yesterday in an attempt to convey “humid and gross,” but then something tugged at the back of my mind and I went to double-check. Turns out, “squalid” holds no implication of temperature at all. I felt sure that there was some word that started with “squa- ” that fit the bill—it’s just such a humid/gross way to start a word—but further brain-digging and internet searching failed to reveal the imagined alternative. I ended up cutting the clause in question altogether.
- Fiscal sponsorship. “Fiscal sponsorship refers to the practice of non-profit organizations offering their legal and tax-exempt status to groups engaged in activities related to the organization’s missions.” Fortunately, this means exactly what I thought it did. I looked it up because as I used it yesterday in an application, I was seized by a worry that the way I’d heard it used was euphemistic—that there was a more precise meaning that most common usage didn’t qualify under. My moment of doubt was exacerbated by the memory of my realization last year that “fiduciary,” “fiscal,” and “financial”—despite all being used in relation to money, and despite all starting with “fi-“—in fact have different roots and different meanings.
- Epistle. ”A writing directed or sent to a person or group of people; usually an elegant and formal didactic letter.” I think I was looking for a pleasantly evocative way of describing a piece of writing (something better than ”post” or ”letter”) and thought “epistle ” might do the trick. I concluded that it was probably too fancy for the occasion.
- Proportional vs. proportionate. “The distinction is subtle, but proportionate describes something that is made that way by an active agent. Proportional doesn’t necessarily involve an active agent.” It always throws me when words are as close as these two are, and are both in common use. I find “obliged” vs. “obligated” problematic, too. (Some good discussion of that word pair here.)
- ogloszeniarzeszow likes this
- gtmcknight likes this
- meaghano said: Maybe “dank” but that word is so gross. (Appropriately!) I do this constantly too. For work emails and tweets. ie whenever I am getting all worked up.
- organizingthesoup likes this
- maxistentialist likes this
- cassiem likes this
- dianakimball posted this