14. Irregardless

What you think it means: Without regard.
What it really means: Nothing.

Like conversate above, irregardless isn’t actually a word. When people say irregardless, they actually mean to say regardless. Regardless means without regard. Irregardless has been used so often that it actually is in the dictionary now and that’s kind of sad. Even though it is technically there, there are a large number of people who don’t consider it a word. You can save yourself a couple of keystrokes and a tongue lashing by just using regardless.

15. Chronic

What you think it means: Severe.
What it really means: Over the course of a long time.

This is definitely one that people ought to know better. When you have severe pain, it is just severe pain. If you have chronic pain, you have been in pain for a long, long time. Chronic conditions and diseases are called chronic because they won’t go away and not because they’re overly severe.

16. i.e.

What you think it means: For example.
What it really means: In other words.

This is one among a number of shortened words that confuse people. Here’s a quick guide on how to use them. Et cetera is etc., example is ex. or e.g., and in other words is i.e. When you use i.e. you’re essentially putting it there to let people know that you’re going to be stating the same information in different words. Here’s how it really works. It’s June and I moved into my new apartment in April, i.e., two months ago.
这是一个容易给人造成困惑的缩略词,下面就简洁地告诉大家如何使用它。Et cetera(以此类推)的缩略词是etc.,example(比如)的缩略词是ex.或e.g.,而in other words(换句话说)的缩略词是i.e.。如果你使用i.e.,就表示你在换用不同的词来表述同一个信息。下面就是具体用法:现在是六月,我是四月份搬进新公寓的,i.e.(换句话说),两个月前。

17. Decimate

What you think it means: To destroy or annihilate
What it really means: To destroy ten percent.

This one is really goofy and one day this won’t be true. For the time being, decimate actually means removing only ten percent of something. If you know a little bit about words it’s not difficult to figure out. The prefix “dec” means ten. However, the traditional definition of this word is antiquated and it’ll probably be changed eventually. Until then, it’s technically correct to use a word like exterminate or annihilate instead.

18. Panacea

What you think it means: A cure.
What it really means: A cure for a lot of things.

This one is easy to confuse because the explanation is virtually the same even if the definitions are vastly different. A panacea is something that cures a lot of things all at once. For instance, penicillin is a panacea. It cures a bunch of diseases. The flu vaccine is not a panacea because it only protects against the flu.

19. Fortuitous

What you think it means: Lucky.
What it really means: By chance.

There is a difference between luck and chance. Unfortunately, people use the two interchangeably, so much so that it’s difficult to explain the differences anymore. Lucky is an event that happens by chance that can be described as fortunate. Winning the lottery is lucky. Fortuitous means simply by chance. For instance if you drop your basketball and it bounces into the road and gets hit by a car, that’s a fortuitous instance. It’s neutral, so it can be good or bad things that happen by chance.

20. Plethora

What you think it means: A lot of something.
What it really means: More than is needed.

This is one I use incorrectly all the time. In fact, I almost used it a couple of times in this very article. Plethora simply means that there is more of something than is needed. For instance, you may think that 5,000 people is a plethora of people. However, when you put them into a hockey arena that seats 13,000 people, it’s actually less than half capacity and therefore not a plethora. If you had 13,500 people in that same arena, that would be a plethora of people.

21. Total

Total means exactly what you think it means but total is used unnecessarily on a frequent basis. When there is a total of 50 people who do something, the total is 50 whether or not you use the word “total.” Or you might hear someone say that they were totally surprised. Surprise is not a conditional emotion. You were either surprised or not. The use of total didn’t add anything of value to the sentence. In most cases, the definition is correct but using the word is repetitive when put in context with the rest of the sentence.

22. Literally

What you think it means: Figuratively.
What it really means: Actually.

This is something that has come about relatively recently and my generation may have helped propagate this one. Literally means actually. When something is literally true, it is actually true. If I haven’t seen my friend in literally five years then I actually haven’t seen them in five years. People use literally along with hyperbole to show an emotion: “I haven’t had Chinese food in literally a million years.” This is meant to denote that the person hasn’t had Chinese food in a while. The word those people actually want is figuratively. They figuratively haven’t had Chinese food in a million years. They probably literally hadn’t had it in a few days or weeks.

23. Can

What you think it means: What is permissible.
What it really means: What is possible.

This is one you have to nip in the bud in childhood because it’s much harder to correct in adulthood. When you can do something, you have capacity within you to perform that action regardless of whether or not you actually do it. I can bang my head into my desk but I absolutely will not do it. When people use can incorrectly it is because they mean to use the word “may.” When you ask someone if they can open the door, you did not ask them to open the door. You asked them if they were capable of opening the door. If you wish for them to perform the task, you should ask if they will open the door. When you ask if you can have something, you’re not asking someone to give it to you. You’re asking if you have the capacity to own it. If you need something, ask if you may have it.

24. Defective

What you think it means: That something is broken or missing pieces.
What it really means: Simply that it’s broken.

You’ll see this one a lot in Amazon reviews. People will say that their unit came defective because it was missing a screw or pieces in the box. That’s actually incorrect. What they mean to say is that their product is deficient. It’s missing pieces, it is not actually broken. The machine may work perfectly fine once the missing pieces have been re-added, which means that it actually isn’t defective at all.

25. Obsolete

What you think it means: Old, out of date.
What it really means: Not produced, used, or needed.

You’ll see this one in the tech industry a lot. People in tech article comments will comment that a phone is obsolete when they really mean that it’s out of date. The literal definition of obsolete is an item that it isn’t produced, needed, or used anymore. An example of this is is the steam engine. It’s largely inefficient compared to today’s combustion engine and even more inefficient than the emerging electric engines. Thus, steam engines are not used, produced, or needed anymore. Yes, they are also old and out of date, but obsolete is kind of the next step after old and out of date.

Wrap up

The English language is a finicky one but it’s also ever changing. Words are updated and definitions change. New words are added every year and some are retired. Very few people will ever master the entire language and the rest of us will just have to do the best we can!