We’ve all had it – that moment when someone uses a word incorrectly and you mercilessly ridicule them for being a silly goose. I bet that you laugh in their face or even crack out a solemn impression of Inigo Montoya.

No? Just me then.

If you happen to be an obnoxious pedant (like me) then you may need to take a hard look in the mirror, for you could well be a silly goose too.

Now and then a word will sneak into everyday language that just shouldn’t be there. Here are 14 words I’ve seen lately that are just plain wrong.


1) Plethora

How you’re using it: Johnny has a plethora of ideas for how to tackle this level of Angry Birds.

What it actually means: It’s a negative word meaning a glut of fluid. Plethora was originally a morbid medical term identifying too much blood in an area of the body. If Johnny really does have a plethora of ideas, he’s probably on the way to a complete mental breakdown.

2) Myriad

How you’re using it: Once on the sand I passed a myriad of sun loungers and umbrellas to reach the shore.

What it actually means: It’s an adjective meaning countless and infinite. As it’s an adjective, it’s actually incorrect to say myriad of. If there really were myriad objects to pass in order to reach the shore, it would be an endless journey. You can stand on a shoreline and count umbrellas and sun loungers, so you can’t use myriad to describe them.  A correct way to use it would be “there are myriad stars in the universe”.

3) Allow

How you’re using it: My Hands Free Whopper allows me to mow the lawn, paint my nails or walk nine dogs simultaneously with full use of all ten digits.

What it actually means: To give permission. The Burger King Corporation doesn’t own you, man. You’re free to walk dogs and paint your nails whenever you want, however you want. What the Hands Free Whopper does do, is enable you to do those things without compromising your access to burgers for even a second. Muchas gracias Hands Free Whopper!

4) Literally

How you’re using it: I literally wet my pants and died when I saw this dog being tickled.

What it actually means: It means “to the letter”, used to emphasise something happening exactly as described. You didn’t soil yourself (or did you?) or keel over because that dog is the greatest organism ever to inhabit the earth, so you didn’t literally do either of those things. You figuratively did them.

5) Decimate

How you’re using it: I decimated all the n00bs on COD last night, it was awesome #pwned.

What it actually means: Decimate, literally, means to eliminate ten per cent of the population. So by that logic you only really killed one in ten n00bs, and therefore kind of suck at COD. The term originates from an ancient Roman military disciplinary technique, whereby one in ten soldiers was selected at random and executed as a way to punish them all.

6) Criteria

How you’re using it: I only have one criteria for dating the opposite sex, and that’s a heartbeat.

What it actually means: ‘Criteria’ is the plural of criterion. One criterion: multiple criteria.

7) Historic

How you’re using it: There’s historic evidence which suggests this was an historical day.

What it actually means: Historic means “of significance” and historical refers to a point in the past. Switch them around and the sentence makes more sense.

8) Phase

How you’re using it: I wasn’t phased by it.

What it actually means: Phase means a stage of development. What you really mean to use is faze – which means to disturb or disconcert. Unless you were shot at with a phaser from Star Trek, in which case you can say phased if you want to (though it’s still technically incorrect, by gum I’ll allow it).

9) Irregardless

How you’re using it: Irregardless of what you might say, I’m going ahead with the plan.

What it actually means: Irregardless isn’t even a word, you ninny! It’s regardless!

10) Refute

How you’re using it: Caramel Kit Kats are not the best; I refute that Peanut Butter Kit Kats are obviously better.

What it actually means: To prove with evidence. If you can produce survey results of a decent enough sample size, perhaps alongside an organic chemist who can explain one flavour having a more positive effect on tastebuds than the other, then you can probably refute that Peanut Butter is the best. If not, you’re just disagreeing.

11) Instant

How you’re using it: My latest book on positive affirmations and self belief will instantly change your life.

What it actually means: A moment whose passage in time is infinitesimally small. A book is not going to change your life, you are. But it’s certainly not going to happen in an instant.

12) Enormity

How you’re using it: The enormity of the sandwich dawned on him upon his first bite.

What it actually means: Atrocity, monstrosity. His sandwich is not only huge, but evil. Instead of being a life-alteringly good sandwich, it’s out to get him.

13) Anxious

How you’re using it: After a long day at work, I’m anxious to get home and see my friends.

What it actually means: Hesitant, reluctant, worried anticipation. If you use anxious, it sounds like you’re going home to receive a ribbing from people who don’t understand what you’re going through at work. And they’re no friends at all.

14) Ambivalent

How you’re using it: I’m ambivalent about quinoa.

What it actually means: Strong, opposing feelings. You are desperate for an additional protein source, but the very taste of it reviles you. For you, quinoa is a complex mistress that plagues your mind with indecision.

So there you have it. Feel free to disagree with me in the comments section if you think that any of the above corrections I’ve made are too harsh, but in the mean time…