Telling the 'big lie'

David Christy

Ever had trouble with the meaning of certain words in the English vocabulary?

You think it means a certain thing, but you aren’t quite sure.

OK, I’m going to hit you with a doozy right off the bat.

All the time, it seems, we read or hear about a disgruntled employee showing up at their former workplace, most times with guns and doing major mayhem. It seems it’s nearly a daily occurrence anymore in America.

That, of course, is ultra-serious and certainly not a laughing matter.

Now, on the completely unserious side, have you ever heard of a gruntled employee?

OK, I sure haven’t, and if someone called me gruntled I might laugh in their face, or maybe pop ‘em in the nose, depending on their tone.

There is an actual word gruntled in the dictionary, meaning pleased, satisfied or contented.

I just thought I knew everything.

On the website mental floss.com I found 25 words that don’t mean what you think they do.

It seems, through history, we have changed the meaning of some words, sometimes subtly — many times completely — from their original meaning.

We use these words almost every day, and I found that meanings of words many times aren’t what we thought. In fact, I hear people using words all the time that aren’t used correctly.

When you barter, it’s not the same as haggle. When you haggle, you are negotiating a cash price. When you barter, you exchange one skill, commodity or a thing for another without money being involved.

Hmmm.

This next one I’m guilty of misusing.

The words bemused and amused don’t mean the same thing, not that I use the word bemused all that often in a conversation or a column.

We use bemused to mean “wryly amused.”

Actually, bemused means dazed, bewildered or addled.

I’ve been bemused for at least the past 25 years.

Here’s another word I’ve used incorrectly for years: dilemma.

The word means two, so a dilemma actually is a difficult situation in which a choice has to be made between two alternatives.

It’s not a problem or quandary as I — or we — probably use it in everyday conversation.

So, what is a choice between three alternatives? It’s a trilemma.

Ahhh, now I see.

Here’s another word that most of us fail to use correctly — uninterested. It means not interested and is a synonym for words like bored, impervious, indifferent and unemotional.

The word disinterested is not the same, as I kind of didn’t realize.

Distinterested means not having an interest in something, and its synonyms include impartial, uninvolved and unbiased.

We tend to use both words interchangeably, but they are different, as you can see.

The word electrocuted comes up periodically in the newsroom, and as an editor, I find even reporters can stumble over it.

When you are electrocuted, you aren’t just shocked. You are dead. You have received electricity significant enough to end your life.

If you receive an electric shock, you may or may not be injured.

Big difference.

If someone tells you they were electrocuted, you better run the other way or go visit a psychiatrist, because you are conversing with a dead person.

Here is a good one that shows meanings have changed over the years.

The word hone means simply sharpen. You can hone a knife, a sword, your wits or your senses. That’s what hone means.

You can’t hone in on something. It’s not correct.

You can home in on something, however.

Another word — oblivious — comes from the same root word as oblivion. It originally meant forgetful or lacking memory, and comes to English via the 15th century.

Today, oblivious means unaware or unconcerned, and is pretty much universally accepted by that newer meaning.

As an aside, I see people driving every single day in Enid who are oblivious to how they are driving.

I like the newer meaning — as in totally unaware.

Ahhh, I see you’ve driving behind these people too.

I fervently hope I’m not talking about you, and you are one of those self-same oblivious drivers.

Oh well, if you are oblivious in your driving, then you will be oblivious to my toned-down reproach.

Here’s another word I see misused — plethora.

Today, we use the word to mean too much of, or an overabundance of.

However, originally the word was a medical term referring to a surplus or imbalance of bodily fluids — in particular blood — that came to blame a person’s period of ill health.

In Greek, the word means fullness.

That quite possibly is why medicine long ago used to bleed patients, because they had too much blood, and bleeding a person got rid of whatever nastiness had befallen them.

Words, like most things in life, are never static — they can change.

And now, I hope you are perfectly gruntled.

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Christy is news editor in charge of the layout desk and a columnist for the Enid News & Eagle.

Have a question about this personal column? Do you see something we missed? Send an email to davidc@enidnews.com.

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3rd-generation journalist, Univ. of Oklahoma School of Journalism 1968-1972, OU Sports Information Office, sports editor Sherman (Texas) Democrat, editor weekly Waukomis Hornet, news editor Enid News & Eagle. Retired 27-year volunteer firefighter and EMT.