(Mis)understood Words

 

Have you ever heard a word used by someone who clearly didn’t understand it? Sometimes, it is the pronunciation (corpseman, obgynie), sometimes it’s totally the wrong word. And sometimes, the wrong word almost makes sense — those are my favorites.

One of my first examples was in the 6th grade when the teacher was explaining the circulatory system. He kept talking about the “Red Blood Corpsuckles.” I was in my wanting-to-be-a-doctor phase, was pretty sure that was not right, and did my best to correct him. (I’m still in my obnoxious-kid stage.)

My first boss in “the real world” was taking a weekly Dale Carnegie self-improvement course when I first started working for him. I could always tell what the lesson for the week was. For example, in the “get to know your coworkers” week, he took me to lunch. During “improve your vocabulary” week, he told me he was being “undulated” by paperwork. I thought the visual image was actually pretty good.

A co-worker used to talk about getting “to the crust” of the matter and sometimes, he would argue that an item was a “mute” point. In both cases, the wrong word sort of made sense.

At the same company, a line supervisor used to talk about someone coming up with a “good ideal.” I think she was the same one that one that once referred to the roots of her hair as “hair fossils.”

It is pretty common for one of our dogs to figure out what we are about to do before we even talk about it. At one of these times, my wife turned to me and said: “He must have ESPN.”

Sometimes, I worry that I am guilty of this mistake at times. I’ve always heard “it’s time to go to the mat” with respect to fighting a particular issue. That made sense to me; I was a wrestler in high hchool and “going to the mat” had a specific meaning. In the last two weeks, I’ve heard the phrase “go to the mattress” at least three times. I am no longer sure which is correct.

What about you — have you come across any of these? I’m particularly interested in the ones where the wrong word almost makes sense.

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  1. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    WillowSpring: he would argue that an item was a “mute” point. In both cases, the wrong word sort of made sense.

    No it doesn’t.

    I hate, hate, hate when people say that!   It’s almost as bad as when someone asks if you can “borrow them” some money.

    It’s just a sign of pure ignorance or a sub-80 IQ.

     

    • #1
  2. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Hyperbole is not pronounced hyper-bowl.
    Apostrophe is not prounounced apo-strof.
    Antipodes is not pronounced anti-poads.

    But for some reason, asymptote is pronounced asym-tote. Just one syllable at the end, where the others have two.

    This one took me a while to get right in high school, to the point of massively confusing a calculus class one day with an elaborate (and technically correct, just not comprehensible) answer about a-SYMP-toe-TEEs. I’ll always remember the way the whole class, including the teacher, stared, as (in their eyes) I just got crazier and crazier.

    I also used to think “bosom” was pronounced “boss ’em.”

    • #2
  3. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    I have owned various businesses in my time, and being a small businessman, have used various means and organizations to help market my services. I have belonged to five or six chambers of commerce in the area. One had these marketing meetings where I kept running into a guy named Bill. Bill was VP of sales and marketing for a local technology company. Bill loved big words, but would get them confused. I wish I could think of examples, but it has been at least fifteen years. Still, he could not get through a sentence without using some sesquipedalian word that was close to, but not quite what he wanted. It distracted me so much that I could not tell you exactly what he was selling. I was always trying to parse the last sentence and big word he had used wrong.

    WillowSpring: getting “to the crust ” of the matter

    Ever hear something that was wrong, knew it was wrong, but couldn’t come up with what should have been there? As I have been writing this reply, I have been going nuts trying to remember “crux.” If I hadn’t just remembered, I would have been asking.

    • #3
  4. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):

    Hyperbole is not pronounced hyper-bowl.
    Apostrophe is not prounounced apo-strof.
    Antipodes is not pronounced anti-poads.

    But for some reason, asymptote is pronounced asym-tote. Just one syllable at the end, where the others have two.

    Hermione agrees that this is strange.

    • #4
  5. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):
    It’s just a sign of pure ignorance or a sub-80 IQ.

    In Utah, “ignorant” is sometimes used as a synonym for “rude”:

    In Utah, a person who is merely rude will be called ignorant: “Gol – He was being so ignernt to me!” If “The Glory of God is Intelligence,” then there must be some exceptionally well-mannered souls in heaven.

    “Correcting me like that is so ignorant!” might confuse many a grammar stickler.

    • #5
  6. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Oh, yes, and this conversation is part of our Group Writing Series under our July theme of Understanding. (Maybe I should do a month on misunderstanding?) We still have four openings available. If this conversation has reminded you of another way to think of understanding, perhaps you should mosey on over to our schedule and sign-up sheet?

    • #6
  7. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):
    In Utah, “ignorant” is sometimes used as a synonym for “rude”:

    That’s not just Utah.

    • #7
  8. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    The wonderful world of “Mondegreens,” so named by writer Sylvia Wright (1917-1981) about the misheard lyrics in a Scottish ballad. William Safire wrote a great piece about children doing that with predictable results:

    I led the pigeons to the flag

    of the United States of America

    and to the Republic for Richard Stans,

    One nation, in dirigibles,

    with Liberty and Justice for all.

    • #8
  9. Judge Mental Member
    Judge Mental
    @JudgeMental

    How about a couple of classics from Archie Bunker?  Hermones and hismones.

    • #9
  10. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    EJHill (View Comment):
    William Safire wrote a great piece about children doing that with predictable results:

    Let’s not forget:

    Our Father, who art in Heaven, Howard be thy name…

    • #10
  11. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Off the top of my head, all I can remember is “flustrated” and “take it for granite.”

    I’ve probably heard some other good ones.

    If we talk about spellings, well that’s another matter for another thread.

    • #11
  12. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    WillowSpring: A co-worker used to talk about getting “to the crust ” of the matter and sometimes, he would argue that an item was a “mute” point.

    Excellent.

    • #12
  13. Ontheleftcoast Inactive
    Ontheleftcoast
    @Ontheleftcoast

    A college friend – who had obviously read the word but never heard it – once pronounced “pseudointellectual” as if “pseud~” were “suede~”. It still seems apt.

    • #13
  14. Nohaaj Coolidge
    Nohaaj
    @Nohaaj

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):

    Hyperbole is not pronounced hyper-bowl.
    Apostrophe is not prounounced apo-strof.
    Antipodes is not pronounced anti-poads.

    But for some reason, asymptote is pronounced asym-tote. Just one syllable at the end, where the others have two.

    Hermione agrees that this is strange.

    As a young parent, I read a Burt and Ernie story about Penelope (as in antelope, cantaloupe, etc) many hundreds of times before someone who overheard and was paying attention finally corrected me. “pen-el-o-pee”.  I had no idea, having never heard the name out loud before…

     

    • #14
  15. She Member
    She
    @She

    I love words.  I love it when folks use them rightly or wrongly.  I love it when folks either make up a word, mispronounce a word they’ve obviously only seen on paper, or simply use the wrong one, with verve and feeling.  Good for them for being interested enough to try.  Some of the smartest and most effective communicators I know don’t have a lot of “book learning.”  I would never make the mistake of calling them “stupid,” and I don’t care if they are “ignorant” of the finer points of grammar, vocabulary or philology.**  So my fellow manager who also talked about getting to the “crust” of the matter and who described people who got themselves worked up into a lather as being “flustrated,” didn’t bother me a bit.

    **Unless Mr. She has been lying to me for 40 years (which I do not think is the case), one of the most effective communicators he’s ever known was his United States Marine Corps Drill Instructor (Sergeant Kritz, I believe).  Sergeant Kritz had an extensive and creative vocabulary, and much of what he said could not be found in a standard dictionary, nor did it conform to the Modern Language Association, or any other known, style sheet in its presentation.  But I don’t think any of his recruits had any difficulty understanding either his intent or his meaning.  Ever.

    • #15
  16. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    Nohaaj (View Comment):

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):

    Hyperbole is not pronounced hyper-bowl.
    Apostrophe is not prounounced apo-strof.
    Antipodes is not pronounced anti-poads.

    But for some reason, asymptote is pronounced asym-tote. Just one syllable at the end, where the others have two.

    Hermione agrees that this is strange.

    As a young parent, I read a Burt and Ernie story about Penelope (as in antelope, cantaloupe, etc) many hundreds of times before someone who overheard and was paying attention finally corrected me. “pen-el-o-pee”. I had no idea, having never heard the name out loud before…

     

    There was a newspaper comic strip in the 60s and 70s called Priscilla’s Pop.

    I pronounced it Pri-SICK-uh-luh.

    And I was probably a teenager before I found out the type of car was pronounced Se-DAN instead of SEED-an.

     

    • #16
  17. Major Major Major Major Member
    Major Major Major Major
    @OldDanRhody

    WillowSpring: I have always heard “its time to go to the mat” with respect to fighting a particular issue. That made sense to me, since I was a wrestler in High School and “going to the mat” had a specific meaning. In the last two weeks, I have heard the phrase “go to the mattress” at least 3 times. I am no longer sure which is correct.

    Both are correct, from different sources.  “Going to the mat” is, as you say, from wrestling.  “Going to the matresses” is from Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, and refers to all out gang warfare.  The tactic is for a gang’s soldiers  tor ent an apartment and put a number of matresses in it to establish a safe house for them to sleep in while the state of war is in effect.

    And on the subject of the OP, I only wish I had a quick mind for these things, as I think malapropisms are hilarious – and especially so when they are unintented.

    • #17
  18. Judge Mental Member
    Judge Mental
    @JudgeMental

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):

    Nohaaj (View Comment):

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):

    Hyperbole is not pronounced hyper-bowl.
    Apostrophe is not prounounced apo-strof.
    Antipodes is not pronounced anti-poads.

    But for some reason, asymptote is pronounced asym-tote. Just one syllable at the end, where the others have two.

    Hermione agrees that this is strange.

    As a young parent, I read a Burt and Ernie story about Penelope (as in antelope, cantaloupe, etc) many hundreds of times before someone who overheard and was paying attention finally corrected me. “pen-el-o-pee”. I had no idea, having never heard the name out loud before…

     

    There was a newspaper comic strip in the 60s and 70s called Priscilla’s Pop.

    I pronounced it Pri-SICK-uh-luh.

    And I was probably a teenager before I found out the type of car was pronounced Se-DAN instead of SEED-an.

     

    Bugs Bunny introduced me to the word, ‘ignoranemous’.  It was years before I found out the right way to say it, and it still sounds wrong to me.

    What a maroon.

    • #18
  19. JoelB Member
    JoelB
    @JoelB

    When I was first introduced to the Battle Hymn of the Republic in elementary school, I wondered why God had a “terrible Swiss sword.” I thought the Bible dealt with Hebrew people.

    • #19
  20. Steve C. Member
    Steve C.
    @user_531302

    WillowSpring: I am no longer sure which is correct.

    Leave the gun. Take the cannolis.

    • #20
  21. Ontheleftcoast Inactive
    Ontheleftcoast
    @Ontheleftcoast

    In high school gym class we had units on a bunch of different sports: track and field, wrestling, gymnastics, golf, archery (!), and so on, each taught by the coach of whatever sport it was. It was wrestling time. The coach made sure we all understood that the name of the sport was “wrestling,” not “rassling.” One day the coach was out, and the football coach, a Texan, substituted. As a group of guys took the referee’s position for in class matches, the coach  surveyed the room, decided it was time, and snapped “OK, rassle!”

    He didn’t understand why most of the class was on the floor laughing, not rassling.

    • #21
  22. Steve C. Member
    Steve C.
    @user_531302

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):

    Nohaaj (View Comment):

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):

    Hyperbole is not pronounced hyper-bowl.
    Apostrophe is not prounounced apo-strof.
    Antipodes is not pronounced anti-poads.

    But for some reason, asymptote is pronounced asym-tote. Just one syllable at the end, where the others have two.

    Hermione agrees that this is strange.

    As a young parent, I read a Burt and Ernie story about Penelope (as in antelope, cantaloupe, etc) many hundreds of times before someone who overheard and was paying attention finally corrected me. “pen-el-o-pee”. I had no idea, having never heard the name out loud before…

    There was a newspaper comic strip in the 60s and 70s called Priscilla’s Pop.

    I pronounced it Pri-SICK-uh-luh.

    And I was probably a teenager before I found out the type of car was pronounced Se-DAN instead of SEED-an.

    Bugs Bunny introduced me to the word, ‘ignoranemous’. It was years before I found out the right way to say it, and it still sounds wrong to me.

    What a maroon.

    Why….I’ll…murdalize him.

     

    • #22
  23. Annefy Member
    Annefy
    @Annefy

    Back in the day I worked for a big California Bank that known for its  cost cutting

    My boss and I gathered about 30 managers together to get them ready for another round of layoffs.

    One manager spoke up and said, “I’ve been lucky. I’ve lost a few employees due to nutrition so I haven’t had to lay anyone off.”

     

    • #23
  24. Bob Thompson Member
    Bob Thompson
    @BobThompson

    Some base their devotion to baseball as biblical since it opens with ‘In the big inning’.

    • #24
  25. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Ya’ll know what this terrible Microsoft Paint work is, right?

    I don’t know how often its name has actually been said on July 4, but I sure like the sound of it.

    • #25
  26. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Oh, while I’m at it, when I was a kid I used to wonder about “row versus wade.”  Eventually I made this silliness:

    • #26
  27. Douglas Pratt Coolidge
    Douglas Pratt
    @DouglasPratt

    Back when Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks were making improve comedy LPs (starting with The 2000 Year Old Man) they had regular bits where Reiner would play a man-on-the-street reporter. One of my favorites:

    Reiner: Excuse me, sir, you look like an actor.

    Brooks: Why yes, I am a lesbian.

    Reiner: Thespian?

    Brooks: I’ll never make that mistake again.

    • #27
  28. Old Buckeye Inactive
    Old Buckeye
    @OldBuckeye

    I worked with a woman who always said “nip it in the butt” instead of bud. I don’t think she was doing it to be funny, but it was especially comical to me when she was talking about disciplining her cat and said she’d stopped his behavior by nipping it in the butt. 

    • #28
  29. Eridemus Coolidge
    Eridemus
    @Eridemus

    I’ll never forget Jimmy Carter’s use of “nucular” and seeing a discussion about it where a lot of people were sincerely shocked and confused, as they had never heard it the right way from anyone they knew. 

    And I’ve given up long ago on someone close to me saying “Matters of fact” instead of “As a matter of fact.” That’s on top of “Illinois” being pronounced with an audible “S.”

    • #29
  30. Ontheleftcoast Inactive
    Ontheleftcoast
    @Ontheleftcoast

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):

    Nohaaj (View Comment):

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):

    Hyperbole is not pronounced hyper-bowl.
    Apostrophe is not prounounced apo-strof.
    Antipodes is not pronounced anti-poads.

    But for some reason, asymptote is pronounced asym-tote. Just one syllable at the end, where the others have two.

    Hermione agrees that this is strange.

    As a young parent, I read a Burt and Ernie story about Penelope (as in antelope, cantaloupe, etc) many hundreds of times before someone who overheard and was paying attention finally corrected me. “pen-el-o-pee”. I had no idea, having never heard the name out loud before…

     

    There was a newspaper comic strip in the 60s and 70s called Priscilla’s Pop.

    I pronounced it Pri-SICK-uh-luh.

    And I was probably a teenager before I found out the type of car was pronounced Se-DAN instead of SEED-an.

     

    Bugs Bunny introduced me to the word, ‘ignoranemous’. It was years before I found out the right way to say it, and it still sounds wrong to me.

    What a maroon.

    ‘Ignoranemous’ is probably a euphemism for “ignoranus” which would have been in character for Bugs.

    • #30
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