THE EMPEROR’S NEW CLOTHES: Undressed by Bad Word Usage

It’s not clothes that make the man (or woman), it’s words … and how they’re used.

Now I may be biased because I’ve been in the word business for 40+ years.  But I maintain that people who are sloppy with word usage will be equally sloppy in discharging managerial duties or being good team players.

What do I mean by “sloppy?”  I’m glad you asked.  Here are some of my pet bugaboos:

Compliment vs. Complement:  The former means, of course, to praise or laud someone, while the latter means to add a positive element to something.  There is no way these two words should be confused with one another, but they often are … and it makes me cringe.

Okay, that’s an example of using the wrong words.  Equally bad are gross mispronunciations.  Here are three:

Realtor vs. Relator: Guess what, world, only one of these is an actual word.  It’s “realtor” because this is a person who deals in “real” estate.  Yet I bet you will hear the word pronounced the wrong way within a week if you listen closely.

Nuclear vs. Nuculer: Are people so lazy that they can’t get their arms (or tongues) around the “cl” sound and must opt for the simpler “cu” version?  For some reason, this mispronunciation seems to pop up more in the South.

Fiefdom vs. Fifedom: Feudal lords held fiefs, hence the correct pronunciation.  Why some people want to put a Colonial musical instrument into their utterances is beyond me.

There are people who prefer to use polysyllabic words that they think makes them sound like management consultants, even though shorter words communicate better.  Think of poseurs that like to “utilize” things rather than “use” them.

Cheap vs. Inexpensive: These words have very different meanings, but most folks don’t think that through.  Simply put, “cheap” is both a price judgment and a value judgment.  “Inexpensive” is only a price judgment.  Therefore, if something is good but doesn’t cost a lot of money, it’s inexpensive, not cheap!   

What are the verbal miscues that tell you someone is sloppy?  And please don’t give me “aks” vs. “ask.”  Even sloppy people know that’s wrong.


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