Posts tagged ‘confusing words’

April 15, 2011

Fast fast

Doubling up on adjectives to make a point has become quite pervasive in spoken language.  I have to admit, although it sounds a bit teenagy to my ears I do do it myself on the not even so rare occasion.

"Mom, I am not really hungry hungry!" pic:

Doubling up on an adjectives  is – together with a negation – often used to qualify the adjective, to indicate that a noun is described by that adjective but not overly so.  Ehm?

An example will help:

“Wow, cool new car.  I bet it is really fast.”

“Well, it is fast but nor really fast fast.  I don’t think I could do more than 100 mph even if I tried.”


“Are you hungry?” “Yes, sort of, not really hungry hungry, though.” – If my son says that to me before breakfast I know that 7 mini pancakes will be enough, 10 would be too much.  Only if he is “hungry hungry” will he eat 10 of them.

One last:

“Are you happy with your new job?” “Yes, but, honestly, I am not really happy happy, one of my coworkers is super-annoying.”

March 9, 2011

Blue sky thinking

Blue sky thinking going on here, pic:

If you are engaging in a bit of blue sky thinking you aren’t really thinking much about the constraints of everyday life.  Blue sky thinking is open-minded and “out of the box”, it is like brainstorming – lettig ideas flow in an uncensored way, trying to come up with novel ideas and approaches and not constraining oneself to what is “reasonable” or normal.

The phrase it refers to opening ones mind wide – wide like the blue sky – and letting ideas in.  It is a phrase often used in a business context to the point where it has become quite a cliche.  The British Internet Advertising Bureau even voted it the most unpopular phrase in business in the UK an couple of years back – but that is the Brits 🙂


March 9, 2011


Just like for dumb there are many words and expression to convey the fact that somebody is crazy or, as the definition reads is “affected with madness or insanity.”

Homer is always great to illustrate craziness, pic:

Some are fairly friendly, used jokingly and affectionately, others not so. But more then the word the context and tone of voice plays an important role in how strong your word comes across. If you say: “Ah, you know Don, he is a bit cuckoo fine.” you are not making a particularly strong and hostile statement.  Saying something like: “Stay away from Don, that guy is totally cuckoo!” then you made a pretty forceful statement about Don.

So here are some more words expressing the idea of crazy, words I have heard used on many occasions and with that words that you will likely encounter:

Berserk (generally involves frantic and violent behavior) – the guy smashed up the house, he went totally berserk

Bonkers – less strong, mentally “irregular” but of the non-violent kind

Cuckoo and kooky are like bonkers

Lunatic/looney – stronger, indicated a real mental disease (thought to be influenced by the moon), also used for people who display foolishly risk-taking behavior.  “Dave’s a lunatic, he rides his mountain bike down frozen waterfalls”

Nuts, nutty, nut case, nut job – on the lighter spectrum but a forceful: “he is a total nut case” is not to be Taken as a compliment either.

March 8, 2011


All real douchebag! pic:

Now here is a word for you that you want to say to somebody’s face if you really want to offend him: douchebag.

More often this is said about people who aren’t present, behind their backs as it is a very strongly negative word.  So here we go:  a douchebag is jerk, an asshole, a arrogant, obnoxious, mean, dumb, pretentious,  or dim-witted person.  Douchebags are generally male.

The use of this word as an slangy insult is fairly new, or at least only recently has it been widely used in real life conversation and on TV.  Originally the term describes a device used to introduce a stream of water into the body, particularly the vagina,  for medical or hygienic reasons.  How we got from here to a jerky guy – who knows.

This is definitely a word you want to use sparingly and never apply it to a colleague or – worse – boss with anybody in ear-shoot.

March 3, 2011


Between lots of yucky pics of drunk people, I liked this best, pic:

There are literally dozens of words for being drunk or a drunken person and they span the spectrum from the harmless to the bad, from the words you can (almost) use in polite conversation to slang expressions best left to frat parties.

Here are some common ones:

Blasted –  definitely not an appropriate word when talking to your boss

Hammered – sort of like blasted so also better used at a prty among friends then the company Christmas function

Intoxicated – the official term, sounds very “official” like something a doctor would say

Loaded – like hammered or blasted but also means to have a lot of money – ‘see the guy over there, he is loaded, owns half of  the city.”

Pickled  – like hammered

Pissed and shit-faced – really bad vulgar slang, frat house use only

Spaced – spaced out, refers more to being high on drugs than being drunk

Tipsy – being slightly drunk like after one glass champagne too many – mild expression and not appropriate for someone really drunk

Under the influence – official expression, used by police and lawyers, also found in the acronym DUI – driving under the influence

Enough talk about drinking, I am going to get a drink now!

February 25, 2011


Oxymoron #1, pic:

Oxymoron – I love that word, just the right combination of Greek geekiness combined with “moron” which is an English slang term for a stupid person – but that, of course, is purely incidental because the Greeks back then didn’t know about the word moron, though I am sure I knew the concept.

Anyway, oxymorons are conjoining contradictory terms.  Let’s look a t a few examples, those which I find compelling because we use them in everyday speech but never stop to thing about that they are oxymorons (btw, another plural version would be oxymora which my spell checker considers the correct one but sounds terribly pretentious, so I am staying with the Americanized version).

Another good one, pic:

So here we go with the oxymorons   :

act naturally

minor crisis

unbiased opinion

only choice

seriously funny

and my favorite: military intelligence

February 16, 2011


I first encountered the word acme in Far Side cartoons where it invariably showed up as the brand name of a wide variety of fictional products and some especially inept enterprises.  So somehow I always believed acme was used for just – fictional brandnames.

An Acme Corp product at it's finest, pic:

And that is partially true, as acme – derived from the Greek acmē – made its appearances in the English language in the 1920 as the name of fictional products and companies in cartoons such as Road Runner.  Products supplied by Acme Corporation had a tendency to fail catastrophically at the worst possible time.

In real life acme means:  the highest level or degree attainable or the highest stage of development.  As such it makes sense to choose this as a brand name for your bakery or plumbing business.

Although one can think up example sentences using the word such as “His fame was at its acme” or “The acme of their soccer season was when they beat team xyz 3 :1″   nobody – in all my years in the US  – has actually ever ued that word in a complete sentence.

February 15, 2011

Peak, peek, pique

I almost got that one wrong today in a mailing I am going to send out for one of my clients – yikes!

I asked the (rhetorical) question whether something had awoken the readers interest and upon rereading the text one last time it dawned on me that I choose the wrong homophone, the expression is “pique somebody’s interest”, not peak or peek.

Let’s go through them:

Pique is a French loan word and means prick in the sense of stimulate which is exactly what it means in that context “did we stimulate/pique your interest”.

Peek is a verb and means glance, have a look, peep.  It implies a short, furtive look, not some long examination of something.  This is an example: “the kids were standing on tippy-toes peeking into the window hoping to get a quick look of what’s going on inside.”

And lastly: peak – that is a noun meaning top, mountain, mountain-top, summit,”Look at all the snow covered peaks – isn’t it beautiful?”

It is also used as a verb meaning “to reach the highest point’:  “the Dow Jones peaked around noon and then started to slide on bad news from a major computer manufacturer.’

Finally, it is also an adjective meaning top, highest ultimate “to reach peak performance you have to train every day.”

January 20, 2011

More confusing words – lay and lie

Here is a group of confusing words: lay, lie, laid, lied.  So lets’ try and get them straight!

Lay means to set something down or place something somewhere as in “please lay all the presents on that table over there”

Lie – well here it gets a little more complicated – means two very different things, namely 1) to recline, to position oneself in the vertical “I am really tiered.  I am going to lie down on the bed for a bit”

and 2) to tell something that is not true. “Tell me did you break that window with your ball or was it little Johnny – and don’t lie to me!”

When lie means relaxing on a bed and when it means telling somebody a falsehood should be pretty obvious from the context.

For those interested in using these words in the past tense:

Lay – laid- “She laid out all the facts.”  “The chicken laid an egg.”

Lie –  lied: “He lied to me for years about his finances.  I’ll never trust him again.”

Lie – and here it gets tricky – lay: “I lay on my bed all morning long thinking about what I should do with the rest of my life.”

January 15, 2011

Confusing words: spendthrift

This one I used wrongly for the longest time and it still gives me pause every time I use it (which isn’t very often, because I still am afraid I will get it wrong: spendthrift.

Marie Antoinette - the archetypical spendthrift, pic:

When I first heard the word I thought: easy – spend like in spending money, thrifty as in being careful about how much you spend on what – so a spendthrift person is someone who spends their money wisely and carefully.

Wrong!  A spendthrift is the exact opposite – a person who spends money extravagantly, recklessly and wastefully.   Or, to use another not so common word spendthrift means profligate.  Go figure!

I didn’t find any very convincing explanations for why this word means to opposite of what it should mean.  Wiki might have done it best by saying that a spendthrift is a person who is able to recklessly spend money that was acquired by the thrift of others.

I guess, this is just one of those words one has to memorize and not rely on intuition.