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 Ronald Morgan said:

So many people have used the word "literally" incorrectly the dictionary now says the second meaning of the word is the opposite of the first meaning.

That's because, two or three decades ago, many dictionaries relinquished their original purpose of being an arbiter of definitions.  For most of their existence, dictionaries assembled lettered grammarians and linguistic experts who would determine the proper definitions of the words and word forms listed in the dictionary  Alternate meanings were included only when there was a distinct etymology to account for them.

However, over the last twenty-five years or so, dictionaries have moved away from determining proper meanings and now simply record all of the meanings that have attached to a word or phrase.  The effect of this has been to legitimise meanings that have come into usage through the semantic drift that Mr. DeLuzio noted.  And that irritates me.

It irritates me because semantic drift rarely results in the evolution of the English language.  It does on infrequent occasion, such as when a word is coined to meet a new need created by society or technology.  Television and download are examples of this.  The language also evolves when a word shifts from a redundant meaning to fulfil a need for which no word currently exists.  Bemused is an example of this.  Its actual meaning is "to be confused or puzzled".  Well, we already have enough words with those or similar definitions.  But bemused has drifted into meaning "slightly or ironically amused", and that's an evolution because there is no other word that means "slightly or ironically amused".

But most of the time, semantic drift results in the devolution of the language---because English speakers in America, on the whole, do not know their own language.  The list of words and phrases that are commonly misused, in ways not even close to their actual meanings, abound.  Just off the top of my head:

Factoid

Enormity

Begging the question

Deja vu

Fortuitously

Even in published writing, where one would expect an editor to know the actual meanings of the words, I see the above words and phrases constantly misused.  In fact, I would wager that ninety per cent of the people reading this post, if I asked them the definitions of those words and phrases (and they did not have the opportunity to look them up), would get them wrong.

And bear in mind, none of the cases above are like bemused; the misapplied meaning does not fill a need.  There are already words in the language which more than satisfy the meanings which people think these words have.  So this is devolution.  A word or phrase which has a exact meaning which no other word or phrase fulfils has been dumbed down by the majority of the population to a definition which already has several synonyms.

In most cases, semantic drift is caused by the lowest denominator of English speakers, and dictionaries do a disservice, by making English less precise and less exacting when they validate devolution of words.

No one seems to understand if they could care less about something then they must care a little bit about it.

I'd guess bemused became amused because people saw that the words were almost the same and assumed they must have the same meaning. "B"mused must be a lesser form of "A"mused.


I got Christopher Reeve clicking that. I see there's also a Kirk Alyn vs. Lewis Wilson version. 
Randy Jackson said:

 Ronald Morgan said:

I'd guess bemused became amused because people saw that the words were almost the same and assumed they must have the same meaning. "B"mused must be a lesser form of "A"mused.

That's absolutely the reason, sir.  Fortunately (not "fortuitously"), the misbelief actually improved the language, in that the commonly (mis)believed meaning of bemused then fulfilled a need in the language.  However, in most instances, mistakenly assuming that two words have a common root (and thus, related meanings) because of similar spellings is just plain wrong, with no unintended benefits.  A prime example is noisy and noisomeNoisome has nothing to do with noise or making it; noisome means "offensive or disgusting to the senses, but primarily the sense of smell".

And the furor caused by the mistaken root etymology of the word niggardly is so widespread, there's a Wikipedia entry devoted to it.

These are the ones that bother me over and over again:

Wrecking havoc is wrong. Wreaking havoc is correct.

Cavalry and Calvary are not interchangeable and are not pronounced like each other..

Exacerbate and exasperate are not interchangeable.

Lose and loose are not interchangeable.

Mano a mano means "hand to hand" not "man to man."

Cache and cachet are not interchangeable and are not pronounced like each other.

Decimate does not mean to totally destroy.

Could've is correct; "could of" is not.

To and too are not interchangeable.

I've seen ironic used incorrectly so much people make jokes about its misuse. But the one I've seen the most is defiantly when someone means definitely. And alright is not one word, but spellchecker accepted it.

Just a matter of time before noisome becomes "offensive or disgusting noise or sound."


Ronald Morgan said:

I've seen ironic used incorrectly so much people make jokes about its misuse. 

It's one of my grammatical pet-peeves, too.  Something coïncidental is not "ironic".

I like your list, as well, Mr. Willis.  All of them get top usage among the English-impaired.

Another branch of the same tree are idiosyncratic misapplications of words in common phrases or aphorisms, colloquially termed "eggcorns".  I often literally (yes, as a qualifier and not, incorrectly, as an intensifier) roll my eyes when I hear or see "common expressions" such as the following:

"For all intensive purposes"  (For all intents and purposes)

"Taken for granite"  (Taken for granted)

"It's a doggy-dog world"  (It's a dog-eat-dog world)

"Your point is mute"  (Your point is moot)

"Stay within earshout"  (Stay within earshot)

"Butt-naked"  (Buck naked)

"From here to ten-buck-two"  (From here to Timbuctoo)

"butt-naked" at least makes some kind of sense. "For all intensive purposes" doesn't.

My other pet peeve involves false and folk etymologies becoming a source of political anger, so that both "picnic" and "rule of thumb" have been decried because the former is believed (incorrectly) to have a racist origin and the latter (dubiously), a sexist one.

Hey you kids! Get off my language! Rah!

Mano a mano means "hand to hand" not "man to man."

I did not know that.

The latter part of "pharaoh" is spelt ao, not the reverse. The word was misspelt on the covers of Fantastic Four #19 and Tales of Suspense #44.

Oops. Let's try this one.

Ronald Morgan said:


I got Christopher Reeve clicking that. I see there's also a Kirk Alyn vs. Lewis Wilson version. 
Randy Jackson said:

Much better.

Must be Earth-2. Luthor has hair.

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