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Women at Work: If you use big words, make sure they’re used correctly

January 6, 2019

There is a “slight” chance that during a conversation you’ve been tempted to use “big” words, even though you aren’t entirely sure of their true meaning. Or, you might have been in a discussion with a co-worker who uses a word they are not familiar with and uses it incorrectly?

Misused words can make even the smartest person appear unintelligent. It can also make those listening stare blankly as they try to make sense of what is being said.

Travis Bradberry, co-author of “Emotional Intelligence 2.0,” shares examples of words that are often interchanged when they should not be.

Ironic versus coincidental: A lot of people get this wrong. Irony has several meanings, all of which include some type of reversal of what was expected.

Verbal irony is when a person says one thing but clearly means another.

Situational irony is when a result is the opposite of what was expected. If you break your leg the day before a ski trip, that’s coincidental. If you drive up to the mountains to ski, and there was more snow back at your house, that’s ironic.

This next example is one that I can pronounce and others will hear it correctly, but when it comes to writing, I often need to talk myself through using it correctly.

Affect versus effect: To make these words even more confusing than they already are, both can be used as either a noun or a verb.

Let’s start with the verbs. Affect means to influence something or someone; effect means to accomplish something.

“Your job was affected by the organizational restructuring,” but “These changes will be effected on Monday.”

As a noun, an effect is the result of something: “The sunny weather had a huge effect on sales.” It’s almost always the right choice because the noun affect refers to an emotional state and is rarely used outside of psychological circles: “The patient’s affect was flat.”

To say the next one drives me “nuts” would probably be an understatement.

Accept versus except: These two words sound similar but have very different meanings. Accept means to receive something willingly: “His mom accepted his explanation” or “She accepted the gift graciously.” Except signifies exclusion: “I can attend every meeting except the one next week.”

Lie versus lay: We’re all pretty clear on the lie that means an untruth. It’s the other usage that trips us up. Lie also means to recline: “Why don’t you lie down and rest?” Lay requires an object: “Lay the book on the table.” Lie is something you can do by yourself, but you need an object to lay.

It’s more confusing in the past tense. The past tense of lie is — you guessed it — lay:

“I lay down for an hour last night.” And the past tense of lay is laid: “I laid the book on the table.”

Bring versus take: Bring and take both describe transporting something or someone from one place to another, but the correct usage depends on the speaker’s point of view. Somebody brings something to you, but you take it to somewhere else:

“Bring me the mail, then take your shoes to your room.” Just remember, if the movement is toward you, use bring; if the movement is away from you, use take.

I am the first to admit that grammar can be tricky, and not everyone is perfect, including myself. But I also think we rely so heavily on spell check and grammar checks, we no longer take it upon ourselves to learn true meanings of words.

If you question a word’s meaning, look it up prior to using it. After all, wouldn’t you rather sound intelligent than the opposite?

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