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! | Source

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 results from the addition of unnecessary prefixes (e.g. re, mis, non, over, un) to the beginning of words that already mean what is intended. 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). Nevertheless, more examples are required, so here are 20 words that don't belong in the English language!

1. Irregardless

This commonly used word doesn't actually exist, though 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're whelmed? Not surprisingly, whelmed means to be completely overcome, inundated, or submerged. In other words, it means the same as overwhelmed. The unnecessary prefix was added in 14th Century England, presumably by irreparably brain damaged plague victims.

Don't let the zombies decide!
Don't let the zombies decide! | Source

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 (e.g. is not; am not; have not). It first appeared in 17th Century England around the time of another plague outbreak, though I'm sure that's just a coincidence.

4. Reiterate

Anyone with a background in science or computing will know what iterate means. For those who don't, it means to repeat. Therefore, it's 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, departed President G.W. Bush once used "misunderestimated" in a public speech. It is a double negative that essentially just means estimated. Thankfully, it hasn't 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 the appropriate alternative.

7. Aksed

When people say "aksed" instead of asked, they genuinely sound incapable of saying it properly. Perhaps the correct usage would trigger an uncomfortable muscle spasm or a cerebral hemorrhage. I'm going to guess 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 a correct usage. However, this addition is unnecessary because the words can provide the same meaning without the suffix. It is also a lazy and unimaginative mode of speech when initially, subsequently, and finally could be used instead.

Espresso drinkers beware!
Espresso drinkers beware! | Source

9. Expresso

If you're 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 using 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, indescribable), fire safety experts have tried to phase inflammable out of the English language. 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, though this meaning doesn't 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.

13. Alot

When considering that "alittle" is not a word, it's not surprising that "alot" isn't either. Nevertheless, 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). However, this is no excuse for using it in the present.

14. Unthaw

This is an amusing example of adding a prefix 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's simply not a word!

15. Non-defunct

It is unclear if non-defunct can exist as a single word. The meaning isn't clear either, as some people think it means defunct (making the prefix unnecessary), while others use it to mean something that isn't defunct. Even in the latter usage, it is a double negative that could be substituted for a word such as "existing".

Don't get dumped for this!

16. Unequivocably

It's easy to add the suffix "ably" to longer words. In this instance, the correct spelling is unequivocally.

17. 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!

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, though preventative has been gaining ground in Britain.

20. Administrate

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

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 denotes a constant repetition while the latter is for a single repeat occurrence.

More by this Author

Comments 60 comments

Sunny River profile image

Sunny River 3 years ago from A Place Without A Name which resides somewhere between Fantasy and Belief, just north of Reality

Great hub! Very informative and funny all in one. It was a pleasure to read. :)

Cantuhearmescream profile image

Cantuhearmescream 3 years ago from New York


Oh this was so funny, I got excited and hit every button! I laughed, I cried... you had it all! So, irregardless; I am not guilty, in fact, I am embarrassed when I hear people say this. I never thought of it as an attempt to sound more intelligent, I've always viewed it more as 'errr regardless'. Confusion, grasping for a word, but unsure of oneself. Overwhelmed, yes, guilty as charged. Please don't blame me, prior to this hub and as you suggested, we don't hear people say whelmed and I wasn't even aware that it was a word. Which I suppose could mean that I had no business using the word overwhelmed either! :D Ain't; guilty as charged, but only when purposely speaking in slang and until someone figures out a contraction for 'There is no way in hell I will ever' ... then I'll have to continue using it in those instances that I already do. As for the rest of them, I believe I just laughed and felt bad for people. Many of them seem as obvious as a slap in the face with a wet noodle, though yes, I've used unthaw in the past, but I learned the error of my ways :D

This is terrific and I'm so glad I saw it come through the feed thanks to Sunny River!

Again, every button and sharing!


Jared Miles profile image

Jared Miles 3 years ago from Australia

Well done Thomas, I genuinely enjoyed reading another great article of yours. Hilarious and educational, liked on Facebook and I'll be sharing :) Cheers!

infernal199 profile image

infernal199 3 years ago from Bangladesh

hahahah... funny really

fpherj48 profile image

fpherj48 3 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

Thomas......I love Love LOVE this hub! I AM a self-admitted, unashamed GRAMMAR NAZI. To make matters worse, (for those who HATE grammar nazis) I do make mistakes and have my own private list of occasional errors. However, when I am corrected, it so happens, I am grateful. This leads me to my question. WHY would anyone not fully appreciate being corrected, complete with explanation and guidance? Do they prefer to display ignorance?

Perhaps far too many individuals are unaware of the high degree of importance that is placed on an impeccable command of our own mother tongue.

This is always crystal clear to me, when I listen carefully to a person who has learned English as their second language or I read something they have written. IMHO, it is inexcusable that those individuals, new to the English language, put the vast majority of those educated in America, from day utter shame!......Voted way up+++and shared. BTW......Thank you for this hub!

Angie Jardine profile image

Angie Jardine 3 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ...

Thanks for this, Thomas. I had not heard of some of these …

Well, we wouldn’t in deepest Cornwall, we obviously have our own down here. :)

I must admit that although ‘orient' is allowable I still don’t think it sounds right, I thought orient was where the Three Kings came from.

wayne barrett profile image

wayne barrett 3 years ago from Clearwater Florida

I ain't never see a hub gooder that this one. : )

Very good piece.

lovedoctor926 3 years ago

A very good list. I can't stand when I hear the word brung used instead of brought just like went used in place of gone. Definitely some of these words serve no purpose. voted up!

Mel Carriere profile image

Mel Carriere 3 years ago from San Diego California

Some of us crackers from the hills are a little bit ashamed about how we talk (see what I mean) but we are making considerable strides toward improving our grammer (hah!) thanks to the tireless scrutiny of our fellow hubbers! (hubbers is not a word either but what the heck). Great list!

The Dirt Farmer profile image

The Dirt Farmer 3 years ago from United States

Here's another common error for you (at least among high school students): confusing the word "granted" with "granite." It's horrible to be taken for granite! Enjoyed the hub.

Lizolivia profile image

Lizolivia 3 years ago from Central USA

I ain't heard all these grammer uses reiterated alot. Although I'm undoubtably and unequivocably a participator, preventative editing helps to not overwhelm, like in a nonplussed kinda way.

Irregardless, I may need more expresso brung before I'm no longer misunderestimated and supposably become non-defunct.

d.william profile image

d.william 3 years ago from Somewhere in the south

funny hub. I enjoyed the comments as much as the article. 'Irregardless' of your poking fun at people, i still like this word better than just plain ole 'regardless".

Thomas Swan profile image

Thomas Swan 3 years ago from New Zealand Author

Thank you Sunny River for commenting and sharing. Glad you liked it!

Thomas Swan profile image

Thomas Swan 3 years ago from New Zealand Author

Cheers Canthearmescream! I never know if I've written a good hub until I read the comments, and your reaction made my day! It's ok to be guilty on some of these. Overwhelmed in particular is more the fault of the people who originally changed it. I also sometimes use "ain't" to parody people. I find that putting on an accent helps to make that clear. Thank you also for sharing!

Thomas Swan profile image

Thomas Swan 3 years ago from New Zealand Author

Thank you Jared and infernal199 for your kind words and shares!

Thomas Swan profile image

Thomas Swan 3 years ago from New Zealand Author

Cheers fpherj48, I agree that it's ok to be a grammar nazi! I find the angry replies "well you're not perfect either" a bit strange. As you mention, it's worth thanking people for pointing out mistakes, which is what I do on those occasions. It usually throws them right off guard! We should all want to improve our writing skills. Thank you again for the kind words and share!

Thomas Swan profile image

Thomas Swan 3 years ago from New Zealand Author

Cheers Angie. Ah Cornwall can be forgiven for being such a lovely part of the world! I had the same problem with "orient". I was thinking about Murder on the Orient Express. It's used to mean orientate in America, but I suppose that can be forgiven too.

Thomas Swan profile image

Thomas Swan 3 years ago from New Zealand Author

Thank you wayne barrett and lovedoctor926. Hah "gooder"... that's one that could have gone in. I would have loved to put in misused words too (like went instead of gone). Thanks for the examples.

Thomas Swan profile image

Thomas Swan 3 years ago from New Zealand Author

Thank you Mel and the Dirt Farmer. Well, it's the effort that counts! I think that as long as we're all interested in improving how we speak, the English language is in good hands! I had not heard of granite being used in place of granted before. It sounds like something that could easily happen with the American accent though.

Thomas Swan profile image

Thomas Swan 3 years ago from New Zealand Author

Thank you for commenting Lizolivia and dwilliam. Very clever combinations there Liz, I hope the expresso that got brung was not misunderestimated! Ah dwilliam, you walk a fine line using irregardless. In recent years, "alot" of people have realized it's not a proper word.

carrie Lee Night profile image

carrie Lee Night 3 years ago from Northeast United States

Thomas Swan: What a fun hub. I think I used to say expresso LOL!!! Entertaining and voted up. :)

Thomas Swan profile image

Thomas Swan 3 years ago from New Zealand Author

Thanks carrie! That one is quite a common mistake. I think I might have said it wrong the first few times too.

marieryan profile image

marieryan 3 years ago from Andalusia, Spain

This was great, Thomas Swan! I have read it through twice already just to make sure I have it all straight!

I love finding out about grammar and punctuation.....which is reminding me of the hilarious book by Lynne Truss; "Eats, Shoots and know the one?

moonfairy profile image

moonfairy 3 years ago

really interesting made me think twice about the words I hear and always thought they were "correct". I was especially caught off guard by "overwhelmed". Who knew???? Thanks for a fun hub!!!

Thomas Swan profile image

Thomas Swan 3 years ago from New Zealand Author

Thanks marie for the comment and follow! Unfortunately, I haven't read that book, but it sounds like my cup of tea (or `expresso').

Thanks moonfairy, yea overwhelmed is a strange one that I didn't know about either until researching for this hub.

MDavisatTIERS profile image

MDavisatTIERS 3 years ago from Georgia

Thank you for an informative and entertaining Hub. Along with being a sometimes grammar nazi, I get just as irritated when people use feel like, feel as if, and feel as though to describe their thoughts, opinions, or assumptions.

"I feel like this was a great article." No, I think it was a great article and I felt happy reading it.

wabash annie profile image

wabash annie 3 years ago from Colorado Front Range

What a great hub! "Our" language is so very complicated and the examples you listed just makes it more so. Thanks for making my day.

marieryan profile image

marieryan 3 years ago from Andalusia, Spain

Thomas, the blurb on the back of the book reads as follows: (I hope I don't get in trouble for copying!)

-- A panda walks into a cafe. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and fires a shot into the air.

"Why?" asks the confused waiter, as the panda makes towards the exit. The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife manual and tosses it over its shoulder.

"I'm a panda," he says, at the door. "Look it up."

The waiter turns to the relevant entry and, sure enough, finds an explanation. : "Panda: Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves."

So punctuation really does matter, even if it is only occasionally a matter of life and death.--

The book has even got some stickers at the back which you can peel off and actually use to correct mistakes you encounter in daily life. It's a great concept.

pljarizona profile image

pljarizona 3 years ago from Mesa, Arizona

If you understood the history of the English language, you would know that there really is no original version from which to establish a right or wrong in word usage, form or spelling. English is the "melting pot" of many different languages, mostly German, French, Latin, Gaelic. When you sited #2 above - overwhelmed as being added in the 14th Century??? A linguist would laugh at this story. However, I do agree with some of your "miffs". Language is an evolving and developing "living" thing..

Thomas Swan profile image

Thomas Swan 3 years ago from New Zealand Author

Thanks Mavisat, I think I've been guilty of that one a few times. I'll have to remember to be more careful in future.

Cheers wabash, glad you liked it!

Haha, good example marie. It took me a while to realize what was meant by shoots. I could do a hub like this on punctuation too. One that always makes me laugh is "your" being used in place of "you're" because the meaning is quite different. I've possessed "an idiot" many times it seems!

pljarizona, thanks for your comment. Yes, English is constantly evolving and there are plenty of changes that were made in the 14 century that are perfectly fine. I think you misunderstood me. Adding "over" was an unnecessary change. It could have been made in the 20th century or the 14th and it still would have been unnecessary.

Vishakha Bajaj profile image

Vishakha Bajaj 3 years ago

Very informative hub.Thanks for sharing this hub.

Poetic Fool 3 years ago

Very good and funny too! Several of these "words" get under my skin but "aksed" really irritates me. It's becoming so prevalent I'm fear the real word is endangered. Thanks for drawing attention to these words and for the laughs!

LisaKoski profile image

LisaKoski 3 years ago from WA

This hub made me laugh out loud, especially at the mention of "irregardless," "aksed," and "supposably." Those "words," along with a few others you mentioned, I hear all the time and it drives me nuts. Thanks for sharing! I think one that should have made your list is people's use of "libary" instead of "library." I will never understand that one.

Carb Diva profile image

Carb Diva 3 years ago

I loved this hub. It's funny AND informative. And, from my favorite weather man, may I add the word "tempahture"?

tattuwurn 3 years ago

I'm guilty of using of only #2 and #11 and using them very frequently lol. Interesting topic :)

Thomas Swan profile image

Thomas Swan 3 years ago from New Zealand Author

Cheers for commenting Vishakha, Poetic Fool, LisaKoski, Carb Diva, and tattuwurn.

Yes "libary" is a good one. I think some people find that word difficult to say, so they just don't bother saying it properly. Similar to "aksed". Also "tempahture" comes into that category I think. Thanks for the great examples!

bestkidsneeds profile image

bestkidsneeds 3 years ago from San Diego, California

Nice list of words that shouldn't exist. I think this is a creative hub.

vlogan25 profile image

vlogan25 3 years ago from Omaha, NE

Very enjoyable.

Thomas Swan profile image

Thomas Swan 3 years ago from New Zealand Author

Thank you bestkidsneeds and vlogan25 for your kind comments.

Michele Travis profile image

Michele Travis 3 years ago from U.S.A. Ohio

You do write some very interesting hubs. Aksed drives me crazy.

But, what drove my parents crazy was the word Ain't. If anyone ever said Ain't, my parents forced me to say ( their favorite quote)

Don't say ain't cause ain't ain't a word.

Thank you for writing this hub.

Thomas Swan profile image

Thomas Swan 3 years ago from New Zealand Author

Thanks for commenting Michelle. I'm happy that you find my work interesting. I think words like ain't and aksed get associated with a certain type of person... usually those in the lower classes of society, so that may be why parents don't like their children mimicking that behavior.

NateB11 profile image

NateB11 3 years ago from California, United States of America

I was aware of many of these, not aware of others. Possibly the most irritating of them, for me, are "supposably" and "irregardless". Not fond of those. Great examination here. I think understanding language and being able to use it properly is valuable, it's how we communicate.

Barbara Kay profile image

Barbara Kay 3 years ago from USA

They just had a list of words added to the dictionary this morning on The Morning Show. The words are those used by the younger crowd. I wasn't familiar with a single one.

brblog profile image

brblog 3 years ago from Chicago, Illinois

Good stuff, I really like these kind of hubs . . . thanks for the info.

Carb Diva profile image

Carb Diva 3 years ago

What about "ATM machine" and "PIN number". Not exactly words that shouldn't be (or aren't) but certainly a disconnect from what the acronyms mean.

Thomas Swan profile image

Thomas Swan 3 years ago from New Zealand Author

Thank you NateB11, Barbara Kay, brblog and Carb Diva for the nice comments.

Nate, I agree. If some people had their way, we'd be reduced to a collection of grunts, whistles, and hand gestures.

Barbara, thanks for the info. Yea, I don't like the way dictionaries are trying to "out-trend" each other. It's a real shame because there are plenty of interesting words that might catch on if people were educated better. It's as if the dictionaries are endorsing an attitude of "don't read the dictionary", which seems a bit counter-productive.

Carb Diva, good point there. It took me a few seconds to realize what you meant, so I've probably been guilty of saying those.

Heather Says profile image

Heather Says 2 years ago from Buckeye, Arizona

Great article. I hate when people say irregardless but probably not as much as I hate when someone says "conversate".

Thomas Swan profile image

Thomas Swan 2 years ago from New Zealand Author

Thanks Heather! I haven't heard conversate before. It seems similar to irregardless in that people might say it to sound more intelligent. I guess `talk' is the standard alternative.

belleart profile image

belleart 2 years ago from Ireland

This is brilliant! I am usually always correcting peoples grammar and getting into arguments over whether or not words are 'real'! Loved it...

Ive heard "irrespective' that a real word??

idigwebsites profile image

idigwebsites 2 years ago from United States

To be honest, it's the first time I've seen many words in this list: brung, aksed, firstly, unthaw, participator, preventative, unequivocalby and administrate. Though I'm guilty of the "overwhelmed" thing because I thought it's generally accepted (and it's in the dictionary haha). Thanks for these corrections.

Thomas Swan profile image

Thomas Swan 2 years ago from New Zealand Author

Cheers belleart! Irrespective is a word. It might be why some people think irregardless is a word.

Thomas Swan profile image

Thomas Swan 2 years ago from New Zealand Author

Thanks for commenting idigwebsites. You're a lucky one then! I've found many of those words are quite common. Overwhelmed isn't too bad. I use it too, but I'd prefer it if I could use "whelmed" without people thinking I'm at fault.

William15 profile image

William15 2 years ago from America

Thank you. That's all I can say. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Greensleeves Hubs profile image

Greensleeves Hubs 2 years ago from Essex, UK

Oh dear, I see a few here that I am prone to using - notably 'unequivocably' and 'preventative' and 'reiterate'. And I ALWAYS use 'firstly' and 'secondly'! But I think we can be forgiven 'overwhelmed' can't we, if it's been around since the 14th century? I must admit my most common misspelling (miss spelling? misspelling? - how many s's would you like?) is words ending in suffixes such as 'edly' or 'ably'.

Maybe you could have titled this nice hub: 'It ain't what you say, it's the way what you say it!' :-)

Voted up. Alun.

Thomas Swan profile image

Thomas Swan 2 years ago from New Zealand Author

Cheers Greensleeves Hubs and William15!

Yea, we can be forgiven overwhelmed. I just wish it didn't have to exist in the first place. I think whelmed should make a comeback! I use reiterate too sometimes. Some words are just too common to use the rarer (but correct) versions. I may try to fly the flag for them in future though!

Steve 2 years ago

You start number 20 with 'whilst', which itself is an unacceptable word. While is just fine in any situation, and 'whilst' sounds as archaic as it does pretentious .

Thomas Swan profile image

Thomas Swan 24 months ago from New Zealand Author

Thanks for that Steve..... :)

Whilst is a perfectly acceptable word in the English language that is still in common usage (especially in the UK). I chose it because, in the context of the sentence, using "while" might confuse the reader more. Compared with "whilst" it more strongly suggests a period of time rather than the intended meaning, especially at the start of a sentence.

I hope it doesn't sound too pretentious, but I'll remember your comment and use the word with added caution in future!

I should add that I'm not immune to making mistakes.

Robert Levine profile image

Robert Levine 16 months ago from Brookline, Massachusetts

Anothger plague upon our language is real words misused to mean something other than their correct meaning--the classic example being "disinterested" instead of "uninterested." If you were on trial for murder, you would want a disinterested judge & jury--not uninterested ones.

Thomas Swan profile image

Thomas Swan 16 months ago from New Zealand Author

That's a good one Robert. I've probably made that mistake in the past, but I'd like to think I wouldn't any more.

Arthur Jameson profile image

Arthur Jameson 5 months ago from Ireland

"Aks" was more correct than "ask" until the 16th Century, so if you're going to be annoyed about "overwhelmed", which you say dates back to the 14th Century, I think you have to give "aks" a break too.

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.

    Click to Rate This Article