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emmy [AT] curious-notions {dot} net
February 2023
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Those words do not mean what you think they mean

Lately I’ve noticed people using words in ways that grate. I am not a linguist. I am not a grammar freak. I do not have the most extensive vocabulary. I do have a love for words though and this love causes me to wince and rant when they are abused.

So, today, I’m sharing.

First is the word wit. Let’s consult the dictionary.

wit [wit]


1. the keen perception and cleverly apt expression of those connections between ideas that awaken amusement and pleasure.
2. speech or writing showing such perception and expression.
3. a person having or noted for such perception and expression.
4. understanding, intelligence, or sagacity; astuteness.
5. Usually, wits.

a. powers of intelligent observation, keen perception, ingenious contrivance, or the like; mental acuity, composure, and resourcefulness: using one’s wits to get ahead.
b. mental faculties; senses: to lose one’s wits.

We are really only concerned with the first three definitions. I’ve never heard anyone misuse wits when they meant to express mental acuity. If you tell a joke that everyone has heard before, you are not a wit, you are a bore. If you write a blog using cliches, you are not a wit, you just have no imagination. Wit requires perception and cleverness to express connections. While wit does not require complete originality, it does require some.

Another word that is driving me crazy, and honestly, has driven me crazy for a long long time, is nonplussed. I almost always hear it used to mean someone who is not surprised. It does not mean NOT surprised or NOT shocked. It means puzzled or perplexed. Someone who is nonplussed might have paused or might have a blank look on their face because they are readjusting their thinking or maybe their eyes are wide open. My best guess as to why people are confused by this word is that it starts with ‘non’ and so people assume this means NOT surprised. Let me share something: there is no word plussed. If nonplussed were to mean not plussed, as in not shocked, then there would be a word plussed that meant shocked. *shakes her head* There is no such word. Nonplussed means perplexed and will always mean perplexed. STOP ABUSING THE WORD.

This last one is not a word exactly, it’s a phrase. I know this phrase very very well. I lived with someone who embodied this phrase. The phrase is “passive aggressive”. When someone is aggressive, they act and do things and express themselves directly. If they are mad, they yell (importantly, they yell at whatever caused the anger). If they are sad, they cry. If they are happy, they laugh. If they are hungry, they go to get food. I might be stretching the point here, but aggressive people are direct and action oriented. Passive people prefer not to act. They prefer not to express themselves. If they are mad, they might say something, but probably softly or only to one person. If they are sad, they might shed a tear. If they are hungry, they might not say anything or even get themselves something to eat. Passive doesn’t mean lazy or stoic, it just means that these people prefer to not act as much as aggressive people do. All of this is fine. I’ve met wonderful and kind people who were passive and amazing and kind people who were aggressive. Sometimes it is just a style. Passive aggressive people are manipulators though. This isn’t just a style, because passive aggressive people are aggressive people who chose to not act themselves. Passive aggressive people want OTHER people to act for them. Or to take blame for them. Or to get mad for them. Or to get mad at them so that they don’t get mad themselves. Wikipedia has a decent entry about the disorder.

So, an example of a misuse that annoys the shit out of me: Blog entries and comments are not passive. Maybe they aren’t the most aggressive things in the world, but they are some kind of action. Maybe it’s a really weak action. Maybe the situation called for yelling or a phone call or something and a blog entry is WEAK, but it is not passive. Weakness does not mean passive aggressive. Do not say you or someone else is passive aggressive when what you really mean is that you or someone else is weak or timid OR JUST PLAIN PASSIVE. (Anonymous blog entries and comments are a whole ‘nother bag. I’m talking about stuff that can be attributed to a person.)

Please people. Use the dictionary, use wikipedia, use google. Use your common sense even. Do not abuse all the pretty words and phrases.

  • linda

    Oh mef. Perfect!! I know a handful of people who should read this entry.

  • emmy

    Glad you liked it babe. Too many people get huffy when I try to correct them, so I figured the blog could take one for the team.