It may surprise you to hear that those of us working in translation services are actually more laid back and flexible about the meanings of words and grammar than our reputation gives us credit for. What we mean is, we understand that language is an organic phenomenon – a naturally evolving system of changing words that dictionaries can never keep up with.
That being said, if you’ve ever used the word ‘literally’ to mean anything other than ‘literally’, then you have committed the most cardinal of linguistic sins. ‘Organically evolving’ is all well and good until your use of a word is literally the opposite of its definition.
Here are 10 examples of the worst English language mistakes.
Imply / Infer
I can imply something when I am speaking or writing to you. You can infer something from what I have spoken or written. I can’t infer something to you, and you can’t imply something from me.
Mute / Moot
Something that’s mute makes no noise, whereas something that’s moot has no use. A mute speaker could be described as moot, but the words are not strictly the same thing.
Every day / Everyday
Everyday means something that is ordinary or normal. It doesn’t necessarily mean something happens every day.
This does not mean a climax. It means the gradual building up of something, originally volume in music, often leading to a climax. Though the climax may still remain, the crescendo describes the process of getting to one, rather than the climax itself.
Less / Fewer
Less is used for countable plurals, fewer for uncountable plurals. Therefore, I can drink less water on Monday than on Tuesday, or I could choose to drink fewer glasses of water.
Hone / Home
If you home in on something, you converge on it or zoom in on it. Honing something, like a skill, means to sharpen or to develop it.
Something that is nauseous causes feelings of illness. If you’re feeling sick, you’re nauseated, and the thing that caused the illness is nauseous.
This does not mean the largest, best, most impressive, or whatever interpretation of ‘most’ you’ve seen. It means the final occurrence of something. So referring to your final cup of tea of the day as ‘the ultimate tea’ makes perfect coherent sense.
This is often used as a synonym of ‘trapped’. One cannot be entombed in something unless one is dead. Hence, tomb. You can be trapped in a tomb, but you can’t be entombed in the tomb until you’re dead.
This one’s almost as frustrating as ‘literally’. The word ‘virtual’ means ‘not real’, so why does ‘virtually’ keep getting used as a synonym of literally? We literally had a perfectly good word for literally before it was ruined by people using it to mean ‘not at all literally’, and now we have to take a word that means ‘not literally’ to fill the gaping semantic hole that ‘literally’ once so competently filled.
This is what happens when you mess around with semantics. For reference, ‘virtually’ means something that is almost the case, but not actually or officially.
Getting angry at people who ruin the English language is fantastic therapy, but there actually is a point to all this linguistic pedantry. When you’re trying to communicate with someone through writing, be it an email or a marketing campaign, it’s important that your meaning is clear and that you’re reading off the same lexical hymn sheet as everybody else.
Considering how often we all make these mistakes in day to day English, it’d be fair to say there’s not much hope of communicating in other languages without the help of professional translation services.
Get in touch today to find out how the Bubbles team can help.