The Persistent Misuse of “Enormity” & 27 Other Commonly Confused Words

Many people mistake the enormousness of Lady Liberty for “enormity.” (Photo by Nina Fazzi, 2015)

Many people mistake the enormousness of Lady Liberty for “enormity.” (Photo by Nina Fazzi, 2015)

When a word is misused often enough, its meaning changes over time. Such is the case with enormity, which has nothing to do with size. It’s not synonymous with enormousness, but that’s changing.

Citing the common and persistent misuse of enormity, editors at Merriam-Webster dictionary explained that, “If the use or misuse of a word is ‘near universal,’ then that word has now taken on a new meaning.”  

If you like the sound of enormity to describe your latest credit card bill after a shopping spree, there’s good news! Merriam-Webster has added a tertiary meaning of the word that will justify your choice. Just be aware that you will annoy grammarians.

Confusing Words

I rounded up some of the words that are commonly confused. Don’t let them trip you.

Ado (fuss), Adieu (farewell)

Appraise (to evaluate), Apprise (to inform)

Affect (having an effect or influence), Effect (actual result)

Chord (three or more musical tones sounded at the same time), Cord (long, thin material thicker than a string but thinner than a rope).

Complimentary (given free; expressing praise), Complementary (completing something; serving as a complement)

Defuse (to remove the fuse or to prevent from exploding), Diffuse (to spread)

Discrete (distinct), Discreet (to be careful in action or speech)

Elicit (to draw out), Illicit (something forbidden)

Enormity (a shocking evil or immoral act), Enormousness (hugeness)

Ensure (to make sure), Insure (to buy insurance or to provide insurance)

Farther (literal distance; at or to a greater distance), Further (figurative distance; to a greater degree)

Historic (well-known, important in history), Historical (pertaining to the past; characteristic of history)

Peak (pointed top), Peek (to peer or peep)

 Stationary (not moving), Stationery (materials for writing or typing)

Read the Merriam-Webster article about the evolution of the word enormity.

Read a related story:

Enormity, Enormousness, and 26 Other Commonly Confused Words