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That Doesn't Mean What You Think It Means: The 150 Most Commonly Misused Words and Their Tangled Histories

3.82  ·  Rating details ·  130 ratings  ·  35 reviews
An entertaining and informative guide to the most common 150 words even smart people use incorrectly, along with pithy forays into their fascinating etymologies and tangled histories of use and misuse.

Even the most erudite among us use words like apocryphal, facetious, ironic, meteorite, moot, redundant, and unique incorrectly every day. Don't be one of them. Using example
Hardcover, 208 pages
Published September 4th 2018 by Ten Speed Press
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Average rating 3.82  · 
Rating details
 ·  130 ratings  ·  35 reviews

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Mar 05, 2019 rated it really liked it

I recall a grammar / language-arts teacher once saying that the complexities of the English language make it difficult to grasp if it's not a person's 'native tongue.' She probably would've liked this book.

Brother-and-sister writing team Kathryn and Ross Petras, with assistance from a trusty Oxford English Dictionary, take a witty look at some of 'the usual suspects' in the Americanized vernacular -- 1.) words that are often similar-sounding, but have different meanings such as fl
Feb 04, 2019 added it
Two grammar experts explain how commonly confused words should be used. Some of the pairings they deal with are; effect/affect (always a tough one for me), appraise/apprise, compel/impel, discomfit/discomfort, farther/further, tortuous/torturous. Along the way they have a lot of fun with word play. I laughed out loud at least a dozen times. I realized how seldom this happens in my reading. I'm sure I'll be consulting this book in the future. Very good. ...more
Matt Hooper
Jun 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
As a five on the Enneagram, few things irk me quite like hearing someone confidently use a word that doesn’t mean what they think it means.

“I could care less.” Could you? Because, if you can, you’re certainly not communicating what you think you are communicating.

A “grizzly” murder scene? Only if the culprit were a very specific species of bear.

“This restaurant is infamous for its deserts!” Unless the restaurant contains arid landscapes with a sordid past, then everything about that sentence i
Susan Liston
Dec 31, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-2018
I was relieved to find that I already knew the vast majority of these, but there were a few I didn't. (like podium vs lectern, but Barack Obama got it wrong, too!) Actually I shouldn't read books like this. The more mistakes I make the better, because the more I know, the nitpickier (is THAT a word?) and more obnoxious I become. ...more
Jan 25, 2019 added it
This brother and sister author team describe themselves as "annoying grammar pedants," and they wrote an interesting book that other "word nuts" will find useful. They did a fine job of citing real world examples to criticize, and they use etymology, definitions, connotations, and standard usage to back up their claims. Even though the book is more about writing than speaking, I would have appreciated pronunciation notes with the definitions. ...more
Apr 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: languages
Authors missed a golden opportunity to call this "You keep using that word. I do not think that word means what you think it means." ...more
Jul 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
I have been saying so many things wrong and I'm so embarrassed! I used the word "fortuitous" incorrectly THE DAY I STARTED READING THIS BOOK. AARRRGGGHHH. ...more
Sep 03, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
An enjoyable followup to You're Saying It Wrong, although not quite as enjoyable, perhaps because pronunciation is a harder thing to get right and easier/more fun to fight over than definition and etymology. But overall, another great mix of stuff I already knew (thus allowing me to feel superior to all of the idiots misusing these words) and stuff I didn't (thus giving me a small dose of humble pie) – plus a set of controversial entries that can only be classified as "words that do in fact mean ...more
Linda Aull
Sep 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This little book is organized like an encyclopedia, but I read it cover to cover like a juicy novel. Learned some things, confirmed some things. #nerdcred
Nathan Albright
Jun 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: challenge-2019
There are some languages that have official language academies that officially tell what is and what is not permissible in a language.  English is not one of those languages, but rather is a language where individual creators of dictionaries, your OEDs and Websters and Johnsons, have attempted without official sanction to set the usage of the English language and also to describe the way the language has been used in the past as well as the present.  As a result of that lack of official sanction ...more
Jan 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
True confession - growing up English was my least favorite subject in school, spelling tests were a nightmare, and I didn’t like reading books. So, you might ask, why would I be reading a book about word meanings? Well, just because I cannot spell them doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate words.

I love educational books that define things in a page or two. I enjoy knowledge and trivia, especially when it comes in “bite sized” chunks. So books like; science explained, how does that work, who inven
A really fun book to read. I had to resist carrying it around to shove in people's faces, but once I controlled myself, it's a great little book. Also, it doesn't just repeat things we already know (but usually forget unless we are carefully proofreading.)

I read a section a day for the length of my library loan then renewed it and reread parts, hoping I will remember some. At the same time I read Yes, I Could Care Less: How to Be a Language Snob Without Being a Jerk and they are nicely compleme
Dec 09, 2018 rated it liked it
This was pretty good. I liked all the etymology discussions that help explain why we make these mistakes. I feel like there were a few that were a bit nitpicky, and several I was shocked anyone would be so dumb to make the mistake, but there were also several I've made myself. It was a quick and fun read for any grammar or language nerd. ...more
Feb 16, 2020 rated it liked it
It’s good, but most of the “commonly misused words” I already knew how to properly use. I mean, who seriously confuses emigrate and immigrate? I dunno...

But it’s a fun book that can be flipped open on occasion and perused for a quick refresher on some beautiful words and their meanings. Not recommended to read cover to cover.
Jul 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: book, non-fiction, adult
A quick little reference guide on all those terms you've struggled with. There are some instances where the authors get a little snooty that terms have evolved over the years from their original definition into something new because of common misuse (and they believe for the worse). Some are common homophone mistakes. Interesting evolution of language. ...more
Nov 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
A great 'dip-inter', I'll be going back again and again. to this useful llttle word book. Full of quotable sections and interesting examples, this book is a reference book for those of us who are word nerds or just like a good anecdote or two for dinner parties. ...more
Antonio Delgado
Dec 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book is more about words’ “tangled histories” and tangled meanings than “misused words.” The writers use an archeological process to untangle the meaning and sense of words and their uses in the world in an accessible way. In the process, they reject the assumption of monolingualism.
John Majors
Jan 20, 2020 rated it really liked it
I like books about words, so this was a fun one. If you like those kinds of books, you'll like it to, otherwise skip it. There are a couple of helpful sidebars about when to use i or me, and who or whom. Again, if you find that of interest, then read on. ...more
Jan 09, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

I have always loved books on the origin of words and word phrases. This one is a must read for anyone else who finds such things interesting. Lots of fascinating information. Two thumbs up.
Nov 12, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I not only learned the proper use of common words, but I enjoyed the ride as well.
Dec 31, 2018 rated it liked it
entrance exam reviewer
Jan 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this book. It had great stories about words and I learned some things about words I’ve used incorrectly in both academic and professional settings.
Feb 14, 2019 rated it it was ok
Pedantic accurately describes the tone. I found it preachy and sanctimonious, but intentionally, so if etymological perfection appeals to you, grab this one.
Louisa Keron
This book has blown my mind.
Jun 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
this book has a mistake in it. on page 140, author says preantepenultimate means 5th from last. Did she mean to say fourth from last? ...more
Jul 12, 2019 rated it liked it
Lots of interesting stuff, but also lots of boring, nitpicky stuff. They'd hate this review, lol. ...more
Sep 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Fun read with bonus vocabulary education.
Feb 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I learned a couple of new words and felt smart while doing so. It's a win-win. ...more
Feb 05, 2020 rated it liked it
In small chunks, it's a good read with a lot of details. ...more
Regina Orr
Jul 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A Super fun book! I loved seeing that so many of the words that we use everyday are being used incorrectly.
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