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20 Words That Don't Exist (Or Shouldn't)

Don't look stupid by using these words!

Don't look stupid by using these words!

The English language is littered with words that don't exist or shouldn't be there. Some of these words were forced into existence by their popular use, with dictionary writers succumbing to the will of mass ignorance. Others are yet to make it into the dictionary for a variety of reasons.

Some of this superfluous defilement of English tradition is caused by the addition of unnecessary prefixes to the beginning of words that already mean what is intended (e.g., re, mis, non, over, un). This point will be "reiterated" later with examples.

Our habit of ending every word with "ably" rather than "edly" or "ally" has also spawned a number of improper variations. Other nonexistent words spring from our unfamiliarity with the past participle of certain verbs (e.g., bring). Regardless, more examples are required, so here are 20 words that don't belong in the English language!

1. Irregardless

This commonly used word does not exist, although some dictionaries list it as non-standard. As regardless is already a negative, adding "ir" makes it a meaningless double negative. People who use "irregardless" are usually trying to sound more intelligent than they are.

2. Overwhelmed

Have you ever heard someone say they are "whelmed"? Not surprisingly, whelmed means to be completely overcome, inundated, or submerged. In other words, it has the same meaning as overwhelmed. The unnecessary prefix was added in 14th century England, presumably by irreparably brain-damaged plague victims.

People were whelmed by the Black Death in the 14th century.

People were whelmed by the Black Death in the 14th century.

3. Ain't

This is another non-standard word that has made it into some dictionaries. "Ain't" is a contraction of various sets of words into one airhead-friendly alternative (is not, am not, or have not). It first appeared in 17th century England around the time of another plague outbreak, although I am sure that is just a coincidence.

4. Reiterate

Anyone with a background in science or computing will know what iterate means. For those who do not, it means to repeat. Therefore, it is peculiar that the word entered mainstream culture with the prefix "re". Are millions of English speakers re-repeating themselves or is this another literal travesty? Regardless, reiterate has made it into the dictionary.

5. Misunderestimated

Among many other gaffs, ex-President G.W. Bush once used "misunderestimated" in a public speech. It is a double negative that essentially just means estimated. Thankfully, it has not made it into the English language (yet).

6. Brung

In some desolate areas of London and the American deep south, "brung" is used as the past participle of bring. For this reason, it sometimes makes it into dictionaries as a non-standard word. Clearly, brought is more appropriate.

7. Aksed

When people say "aksed" instead of asked, they do genuinely sound incapable of saying it properly. Perhaps the correct usage would trigger an uncomfortable muscle spasm or a cerebral hemorrhage, but I am going to assume that they could say it properly with a little training.

8. Firstly (and Secondly, Thirdly, etc.)

Adding the suffix "ly" to words such as first, second, and third is technically a correct usage. However, it is unnecessary because the words can provide the same meaning without the suffix. It is also a lazy and unimaginative mode of speech when there are better alternatives (initially, subsequently, furthermore, finally, etc.).

Espresso drinkers beware!

Espresso drinkers beware!

9. Expresso

If you are ordering an espresso coffee and you ask for an "expresso," you might get laughed at. When someone doesn't listen closely to how a word sounds, they can fill in the blanks with other common words that sound similar (e.g., express).

10. Inflammable

Don't be burned by using inflammable in a sentence! It has exactly the same meaning as flammable (easily burns). As the prefix "in" often means an opposite (e.g., indecent or indescribable), fire safety experts have tried to phase inflammable out of the English language. In this case, it was actually the original spelling, having been derived from the Latin for inflame.

11. Nonplussed

Nonplussed is Latin for "no more" in the context of being too confused to understand any more. In North America it has come to mean unimpressed or unfazed, although this meaning does not appear in most dictionaries. Neither meaning makes much sense because both require "plussed" to be a word, which it isn't.

12. Grammer

One of the most amusing quirks of the grammar-Nazi profession is when people use "grammer" to correct the grammar of others. Few people have perfect spelling and grammar (including yours truly), but in these instances the guilty party deserves a humiliating rebuke.

The Worst Grammar-Nazi

13. Alot

Considering that "alittle" is not a word, it should be no surprise that "alot" isn't either. However, it wouldn't be a bad idea to create a compound word in this instance. When all other grammatical rules are followed, quickly spoken words are often combined (e.g., become, into, elsewhere). I used to use this illicit compound a lot, but that is no excuse now that I have a little understanding.

14. Unthaw

This is an amusing example of a prefix being added to a word that sounds like it should be there, but which actually destroys the intended meaning. If thaw means to defrost something, does "unthaw" mean to freeze it again? It is simply not a word!

15. Non-defunct

It is unclear whether non-defunct should be hyphenated or not, but some deviants appear to be using the hyphen to force this non-word into existence. Some people think it just means defunct, making the prefix unnecessary. Others use it to mean something that is not defunct (it should be banned due to that confusion alone). However, even with the preferable second definition, it is a double negative that could be substituted for a word such as "existing."

16. Supposably (and Undoubtably)

Supposedly and undoubtedly are the correct forms of these words. The suffix "ably" is often misused in place of "edly", driving many people decidedly nuts!

Repeated Errors Can Be Frustrating

17. Unequivocably

As we have seen, it is easy to add the suffix "ably" to longer words. In this instance, the correct spelling is unequivocally.

18. Participator

Participator is listed in most dictionaries despite there being a shorter alternative. The word participant has exactly the same meaning and is less of a tongue twister. Participator likely emerged from similar words like competitor and adjudicator.

19. Preventative

Much like the previous entry, preventative is a longer variant of a shorter word with exactly the same meaning. Preventive is a preferable and more common form, although preventative has been gaining ground in Britain.

20. Administrate

Despite being an acceptable word, administrate can be substituted by the shorter alternative, administer. However, in popular usage, administer has come to mean "give out," while administrate often refers to the official business of administrators.

Most people "succeed despite idiocy" when trying to communicate, so there is no need to be a Grammar-Nazi.

Most people "succeed despite idiocy" when trying to communicate, so there is no need to be a Grammar-Nazi.

Other Controversial Words

Many other words were researched and found to be admissible. For example, orient and orientate are both acceptable. The latter is more often used in British English where orient is synonymous with east-Asia.

Aluminium and aluminum are both acceptable as the British and American spellings respectively. Also recur and reoccur are both fine. The former describes a constant repetition while the latter is for a single repeat occurrence.

Thank you for reading. If you liked this article, please check out my breakdown of the most annoying clichés!

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© 2013 Thomas Swan

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