For today’s word nerdery, I thought we could go over some of the most commonly “misused” words. Misused is in quotes there because the simple fact is, you can use any word any way you want. The grammar police aren’t going to come knocking on your door to charge you with first degree Incorrect Usage of a Verb, third offense (which comes with a term of twenty five years to life). Although people might misunderstand you or think you’re silly, you can go ahead and say “My brain literally spewed out of my ears!”
People tend to use irony when they mean coincidental or unexpected. However, in the words of Bender, irony is “The use of words expressing something other than their literal intention.” And who are we to contradict the word of Futurama? To put it simply, let’s say you just finished a mind-crushing calculus exam and someone asked you how it went. Saying “What a snap!” would be ironic because A) it was extremely difficult, not easy; and B) your mind snapped and you’re going home to cry yourself to sleep.
A lot of times, this word is used as an intensive, for example, “I am literally sweating bullets” when it’s very hot. It’s supposed to be used as a synonym for completely or actually, or as a way to say word for word. Ad nauseum literally means to nausea.
Notice there is an e after the l, not an i. This is actually one that I know I’ve misused when writing. Complementary means that it completes something, like how hot fudge complements a sundae. Deliciously so.
Infer is easily mixed up with implied, but there’s a big difference. Basically, it is the speaker/writer who does the implying and the listener/reader who does the inferring. If I say “No, you don’t need to get me a gift for my birthday” with a certain tone, I’m implying that you damn well better get me a gift and make it expensive. You are inferring that you better buy me a gift or start sleeping with one eye open.
This is confusing because it sounds just like loathe, but they have different meanings. For the latter you would say “I loathe you” and that would mean I don’t like you. However, loath means reluctant, as in “I am loath to give you another chance.” One easy way to know remember that loathe is a verb and loath is an adjective—it can only be used with a verb.