It doesn’t mean what you think it means.
June 05, 2015
Help me out here, people. For the umpteenth time, I’ve had a note from a reader telling me about an error in my book. Many writers I know, including the peerless Tess Gerritsen, get this kind of feedback.
Now, ordinarily, I love getting corrections from readers because it means that in future editions of the book, I can change, says “commissary” to “dispensary” or put the Pax River Naval Station in the right state (blush).
But quite often, a reader wants to change a word that’s already correct. The latest? Gabbie K. tells me I’ve spelled “minuscule” wrong. She wants me to spell it “miniscule.” Is it because it’s derived from the ancient root “mini” as in, “mini marshmallows”???
And don’t get me started on words that are spelled right, but are perennially misunderstood. There has to be a term for this–words that don’t mean what you think they mean. You know, like toothsome. Ask anyone what she thinks it means. Use it in a sentence, even. “He had a toothsome smile.” Trust me, toothsome does NOT mean toothy. It has nothing to do with teeth. Look it up, I dare you.
And niggardly is not a racist term, although this word is so misunderstood that I’m nervous just typing it. niggardly“>It means stingy, and always has. Out of ignorance, some people think it’s an offensive term. So much so that when I need to say “stingy,” I’ll just say “stingy. Or maybe if I’m feeling daring, I’ll say “begrudgingly.”
Oh, and just so you know–when someone makes a speech and you want to agree with them vociferously, it’s “Hear! Hear!” Not “Here, here,” unless you’re calling a dog. And did you know that if someone was killed by hanging, he was hanged, not hung? And the past tense of sneak is sneaked, not snuck. Check it out, people. You know I’m right.
[Note: Some sites like the New York Times have a new lookup feature. Select any word, and it will takeyou to a dictionary link.]
Here are a few more “counterintuitive-nyms” for you. Treat this as a pop quiz. Do you know what these words mean, how to use them and how to spell them? If yes, then YAY YOU:
Noisome, inflammable, invaluable. Chasten, bemuse, vilify. Fecund, lachrymose. Guttural. Timorous. Restive, leman, sacrilegious.
How about you? What are some sadly misunderstood and misspelled words in your writing world?