News events, celebrities, politics and sports often drive a sudden spike in people looking up a specific word. Trends this week include synergy (Russians sought ‘political synergy’), complicit (Saudi prince ‘complicit’ in Khashoggi murder) and endgame (Marvel reveals Avengers ‘endgame’).
Political statements and celebrity gossip aside, some words regularly drive people to the Merriam-Webster website. A post on the top 10 words people look up all the time* (see below) prompted my own list of seven words people misuse all the time, and perhaps should look up:
A complement generally completes or perfects something; “The scarf is a nice complement to her outfit.”
A compliment expresses respect, affection or admiration or is a token of esteem; “Thank you for the compliment.”
Discreet means modest, unpretentious or showing good judgement in speech or conduct; “The discreet elegance of a home.”
Discrete is individually distinct or unconnected; “There are two discrete sections.”
Peek means a glance or furtive look, or to peer through a hiding place; you “peek at something.”
A peak is generally the sharp or pointed end, the top of a hill or mountain or a high point; “the rocky peak of the mountain.”
Pique means to arouse a feeling like anger or resentment, or the feeling itself; “a fit of pique” or “to pique your curiosity.”
4. Pore over/pour over
To pore over something is to study or read it carefully; “He pored over the map.”
To pour over is to dispense from a container, supply freely or vent. “He poured milk over the cereal.”
Principal is the most important or influential thing, a matter of primary importance or a person in a leading position; “Butter is the principal ingredient.”
A principle is a fundamental rule or code of conduct; “She is a woman of principle.”
Rein refers to a means of checking, managing or controlling; “He tried to rein in the department’s spending.”
Reign indicates authority or power, or something prevalent; “England is under the reign of Queen Elizabeth” or “Chaos reigned in the classroom.”
Throes mean a hard struggle, pain or spasm; “in the throes of revolutionary change.”
Throw has a long list of definitions, but typically refers to propelling something through the air, unseating, flinging or giving; “She throws a baseball.” A throw can also be a type of shawl or blanket.
No doubt many people use the wrong word because they are in a hurry, and there is no proofreader on the case. Still, let this be a reminder to slow down and doublecheck.
If you aren’t sure which spelling is correct, look up the word. Google helpfully provides a dictionary definition as the first result when you ask, “what does [word] mean?” If the word regularly trips you up, try using a different one. Ask, “What’s another word for [word]?”
What other word to you think should be on the “should look up” list?
* The 10 most-often-searched words are affect/effect; albeit; ambiguous; apathetic; conundrum; cynical; integrity; love (although Merriam-Webster guesses people look this up for “answers beyond a dictionary explanation”); pretentious; and ubiquitous.