10 Words That Don't Mean What You May Think They Do
by Mark Nichol As English evolves, word meanings shift and turn, sometimes reversing themselves altogether. These ten words have shifted their senses over the years. In some cases, we are wise to likewise be flexible; in others, we relax our vocabulary at the expense of useful distinctions: 1. Decimate The literal meaning of this word, as all you lovers of Latin (not to be confused with Latin lovers) know all too well, is “to reduce by one-tenth,” supposedly from the punitive custom of selecting one out of ten captives by lot and killing those so selected. 2. Commonly employed to mean “not interested,” disinterested has a precise, useful meaning of “neutral, unbiased.” 3. Some people would reserve this word to mean “monstrously wicked,” but, in truth, it is properly invoked to refer to anything overwhelming or an unexpected event of great magnitude, and thus it need not be invariably corrected to enormousness except when it is clearly in reference to a loathsome occurrence. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8.