Sometimes the sounds we speak or the signs we scratch on paper
cause eyes to be raised, and we say "What's wrong with that?"
but it turns out we've uttered a nonword, one that is a misspelling
or mispronunciation or misderivation of a correct word.
In other cases, a word pops into use, seeming to have mutated
from an older version, and begins to ruthlessly crowd out the
This backformation from administration can block the customary
and honorable administer.
This backformation from commentator is already accepted in
usage, but it means we will soon be hearing about someone's
commentations instead of comments, and we will
talk about someone's commentatorly manner.
The incorrect spelling reflects the strong attraction of the suffix
-ition, and the unfamiliar sound of the -ution suffix.
The correct spelling and pronunciation is diminution, reflecting
a derivation from diminish.
This is a familiar word, used in phrases like "If I had my druthers...",
where it means "If I had my preferred choice". The word presumably
comes from a slurred form of "I'd rather".
Despite the suggestive influence of the word exploitation,
the corresponding adjective is exploitive.
Formed by analogy with length and width, but unfortunately we already
have the perfectly good and standard word height!
I stopped myself once, as I was describing the "heighth and width"
of some object and thought "What did I just say?" and then I thought
"It sounds wrong, but why?".
For a person who doesn't know the precise word, or doesn't expect
his audience to know it, a "jillion" or "kazillion" or "kabillion"
expresses the idea of "very big". Now, because computers often
reference the very small, we have corresponding make-words:
"At beige terminals, sixteen cryptanalysts quietly crunched numbers,
spitting out results in illionths of a second."
James Bamford, "Body of Secrets".
I made up this word to show the absurdity of preventative,
and then I discovered that many people use this instead of the
correct inventive, so now this word's in jail too!
The correct word is regardless.
This incorrect spelling comes by an incorrect derivation from
mini; the correct spelling is minuscule and the correct
derivation is from minus.
Isn't in the dictionary, but should be, but that's a whole nother
The correct word is oriented. When you're lost, you become
disoriented, not disorientated.
The correct word is preventive, unless a person who makes
lots of inventions is inventative. I thank my friend and
roommate, the future Dr Kirk Nelson for rubbing my nose in this one
after I thought I had corrected his application to medical school
as I was typing it up!
Here's a word that you'll find defined as a proper word; but I think
it is an illegitimate and unneeded monster that satisfies the needs
of people who prefer an extra mystifying syllable or two in their
vocabulary where possible. Occasionally, I can see where you might
prefer to discuss a "societal disease" rather than a "social disease",
but I'd recommend you discuss "a disease of society" instead. The
word "social" does have double duty in common use, of course, and this
may really be why "societal" popped up. We tend to mean "close and personal"
when we use the word "social". But now that we are all experts on society and
its woes, we want to reserve "social" for our happy world, and use
"societal" for our discussion of the mostly fictitious creation
of our common imagination that we call "society". I still hate the word,
despite this explanation.
You will be told in all solemnity that til is not a word,
that it is not an acceptable contraction or backformation from
until and that the appropriate word is till. If
that makes sense to you, go with it! This is a "nonword" that
I happen to like.
The correct word is, presumably, undoubtedly.
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Last modified on 18 January 2013.