Commonly Misused Words

22 Jul

Allergy: Physical reaction of “cannot cope” from the body, in response to some object contact. Not “I don’t like this”.  Having an allergy means having an abnormal (and often serious) medical reaction to a certain stimulus (an allergen). If you tell the people employed in a restaurant that you are allergic to something, you are asking them to clean everything an extra time to make sure you don’t die. If you’re saying that you’re allergic just because you don’t like something, you are physically not allergic and are metaphorically being a dick. Try just asking politely if they could serve whatever it is you’re ordering without the thing you don’t like.

Anarchy: Without government. Rejecting hierarchy. Without leaders. Leaderless. None of that, you’ll note, includes “chaotic hellhole of violent rampaging survivalists who immediately turned on each other once there were no richer, higher ranking people to tell them what to do” which is how anarchy is typically viewed. See, that second definition – the inaccurate one – is entirely from Hobbes’ view of human nature. Namely, that class systems (yes, Hobbes was what we would call Classist) were necessary because human nature was a cruel animalistic sort of thing. Now, that’s a gross generalisation, but you get the point. Yes, some people calling themselves anarchists have caused political chaos and yes some people who have been called anarchists by others have caused political chaos (such as Guy Fawkes who explicitly wanted to replace the government with a theocracy – a desire which absolutely excludes anarchy as they are completely incompatible!). But most anarchists, despite the word being usurped to refer to militant groups in political wars who just happen to want a different government than the one American news stations support, are not in agreement with Hobbes on human nature. Anarchists think that society without government – without leaders – could work. As in: it could be a functioning society. In fact, that it could be a better functioning society than any governed society. Why? Because genuine anarchists take the opposite view to Hobbes: they think that without class systems and leaders (and countries) to divide us humans would actually be better to each other. As in: anarchists – especially anarcho-pacifists, which is one of the bigger sub-divisions of anarchists – are probably more optimistic and peaceful people than most others. Because in order to genuinely believe that people would work together in a functional society if there were no laws (and thus no threats) to keep them behaving, you have to be able to look at all the horrible injustice and evil that humans do to each other and still be able to truly, truly, believe that humanity is, by nature, better than that. So next time you’re about to write that “the battlefield was anarchy”, stop and ask yourself: Is the battlefield really a society without government? Or is it just a bloody, chaotic, mess full of screaming people who aren’t actually sure what’s going on right not and are just out to save themselves? For that matter, which one of those options actually evokes the image you’re going for? I’m betting it’s the latter.

Assault: Not actually the same thing as battery. Assault is an attempt or threat of harmful or offensive contact with a person. Battery is actually managing it. If someone charges at you with a sock full of batteries: it’s assault. If they actually manage to hit you with the sock full of batteries: it’s battery.

Ichor: Not actually the infallible touchstone of the seventh rate. Nor, however, a generic garnish for gelatinous oozes and other slimy horrors. Ichor has two very specific meanings and two alone. It is either an acrid and watery discharge from wounds or ulcers, or it is the blood of the gods in Ancient Greek Mythology – in which case it is golden in colour and poisonous to mortals.

Interpret: To construe, understand, construct or render in a particular way. To make a hypothesis about what something could be, rather than to give a fact about what it was meant to be. It’s fine for a literary critic or English teacher to say “the author didn’t mean X but a reader can apply X meaning to it” just so long as they don’t do what they all currently do, while bellowing about why the author is dead, which is to say “the author meant X” when the author has said they did not. It’s also perfectly fine to say “the author said they meant Y, not X, but they did a really shitty job of incorporating that into the text and so a reader can easily interpret it to mean X”, just not “the author, who has said they did not mean X, meant X”. The only person who can know what someone meant is the person who meant something. Or, to clarify the difference between what someone meant and what can be interpreted from their words or actions: “I didn’t mean to stand on your foot” “Yeah, but you’re still on my foot and it hurts so get the fuck off”.

Literally:  Despite what the internet may have implied at you, “literally” does not mean “metaphorically very much”. It means “really” as in actually in real life happening really. For example, if someone says “I am just venting about this topic and do not want any responses because it literally gives me blood pressure problems to just think about it for a second, and it triggers my anxiety problems” they are not saying that it like metaphorically riles them a bit. They are saying that bringing it up at them, after a direct plea that you not do that, is going to cause them real life medical issues and, thus having been warned, that if you choose to do so anyway you are knowingly and wilfully causing them medical problems. Similarly, Jon Oliver metaphorically destroys social issues on his show, but literally destroys a piñata (not multiple piñatas). No, seriously. Go look that up on youtube.

 Meant: In all its forms, meaning is an intention. A thing can mean something different to many different people, but no one can “unintentionally” mean something. Something can have other potential meanings than the one you meant (that is: can be interpreted differently) but you can’t unintentionally mean something. Meaning is by definition an intention. So when your English teacher or friendly local literary critic tells you that “the author meant X” when the author has explicitly said “I did NOT mean X”, they are a liar. They also think they know better than the original creator and yet, at the same time, they don’t understand the definitions of basic English words. What these people are trying to say, I presume, is; “The author meant X but it’s not explicit in the text and therefore it can also be interpreted by other people in way X”.  But they really need to actually say that.

Poisonous: Not the same as venomous. No, really. In the former case you die if you bite it, in the latter case you die if it bites you. Poisonous can also refer to gasses and liquids, but neither of those is going bite you. Typically the mix up here is writers describing snakes or arachnids as poisonous (which they technically could be, but in which case you need to show your character eating them) rather than, say, super-intelligent clouds of carbon monoxide swooping around and nipping at people.

Reign/Rein/Rain: If you “reign” in your horse, you are the ruling power inside your horse. If you “rain” in your horse you are a cloud precipitating in a most disturbing location. If, however, you “rein” in your horse, you’re just exerting pressure on the bridle in order to control the animal you are riding.


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Posted by on July 22, 2016 in On Writing


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