Writing Tips

Confusing Words

Last week we talked about words that are confusing because they have opposite definitions. Today we will cover some words with often-misunderstood definitions. Consider:

Penultimate does not mean more than ultimate but means second to last.
Confusing usage: “It is the penultimate lap of the race.”
Is it the most exciting lap or simply the lap before the final one?

Inflammable does not mean the opposite of flammable, but some people think so. Both words have the same meaning (though some claim subtle distinctions).
Confusing usage: “The liquid is inflammable.”
Should I be careful or not?

Niggardly means stingy, but some wrongly assume it’s a racial slur.
Confusing usage: “Don’t be niggardly.”
Is the reference to misers (correct) or minorities (incorrect)?

We need to make sure we use words correctly – and to consider if our readers will understand them correctly.

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Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!

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