Tag Archives: words that don’t mean what you think

What some words “really” mean


English speakers are spoiled, having at their fingertips such a large, colorful vocabulary of words drenched in history, complexity, subtlety and nuance. But with their meanings constantly shifting and evolving, as they’re meant to do in a living language, many words are as slippery as fish: impossible to capture in the dictionary editor’s net with any definitive sense or identity, as their meanings twist and turn in the mouths and pens of their many users.

With that being said, it’s their complexities and subtleties — often an inherent part of the words’ very meanings — that are sometimes seen to be ebbing away, making their owners either increasingly confused with or newly synonymous with other similar words. Nuances are lost, definitions become more generalized, distinctions between words become more hazy, and a few words are even turning into contranyms, ie. the opposite of themselves (see Glossophilia’s earlier post on this topic).

Here are 28 words that are going through or have already undergone this transformation. Continue reading