Top 5 Naughty Words

I’m sorry, this piece isn’t as juicy or racy as the title may imply; instead, a rather wonderful little list of words which are frequently misused. Often the meaning, true definition or how to use them is not fully understood. Check out these top 5 tricksy words! 1. Unique  Dictionary definition: An adjective Something that […]

I’m sorry, this piece isn’t as juicy or racy as the title may imply; instead, a rather wonderful little list of words which are frequently misused. Often the meaning, true definition or how to use them is not fully understood. Check out these top 5 tricksy words!

1. Unique 

Dictionary definition:

An adjective

Something that is unique is the only one of its kind.

Etymology of unique:

c. 1600, “single, solitary,” from Middle French unique (16c.), from Latin unicus “only, single, sole, alone of its kind” from unus “one” (from PIE root *oi-no “one, unique”).

I love and adore this word. There is no other which truly provides the gravitas and individualism unique offers. However, it is one of the most misused words in all media. Traditional arguments suggest the meaning of unique is absolute – similar to words such as complete, infinite and perfect.

As unique is an absolute, it should not be modified in any manner – of course, this is how I see it commonly misemployed.

For example it is incorrect to write that unique is: the most unique, quite unique or even really unique. As you see, unique is one of a kind and therefore beyond modification.

Whatever you are describing must be unique!

2. Nice

Dictionary definition of nice:

An adjective

If you say that something is nice, you mean that you find it attractive, pleasant, or enjoyable.

Etymology of nice:

late 13c., “foolish, stupid, senseless,” from Old French nice (12c.) “careless, clumsy; weak; poor, needy; simple, stupid, silly, foolish,” from Latin nescius “ignorant, unaware,” literally “not-knowing,” from ne- “not” (from PIE root *ne- “not”) + stem of scire “to know” (see science).

Isn’t this word amazing? The origin of the word actually used to imply someone was not very clever or sophisticated, it meant fastidiousness or precociousness. It was not until the eighteenth century this word changed use; possibly nice was being used in a sarcastic sense and then its meaning evolved.

Either way, it is still a word best avoided in writing. Many, many people find this word utterly sloppy as it is considered nondescript and benign. I can remember being reprimanded at school for daring to use such a lazy word and then later, when I first started in publishing. Take it from me, avoid the word and you’ll spare yourself the very lengthy and dull arguments as to why you should never use it!

3. Iconic

Dictionary definition:

An adjective

An iconic image or thing is important or impressive because it seems to be a symbol of something.

Etymology of iconic:

1650s, “of or pertaining to a portrait,” from Late Latin iconicus, from Greek eikonikos “pertaining to an image,” from eikon “likeness, image, portrait” (see icon). In art, applied to statues of victorious athletes, sovereigns, etc., 1801.

This word is frequently misused throughout the media. Regularly, famous people are described as iconic. However, are they actually iconic? Usually, never. In the truest sense, iconic is used to describe images of people or structures which deserve true mass devotion. Images of Jesus Christ and The Virgin Mary are commonly correctly described as iconic. The Virgin Mary is a symbol of purity and Jesus Christ, a saviour. The works created in their image are iconographic. Structures such as the Statue of Liberty or the Eiffel Tower are iconic symbols of the USA and France.

The Statue Of Liberty

Certain aspects of popular culture have now become revered for long enough to symbolise an era, genre or particular art scene. For example Audrey Hepburn and Coco Chanel are both enduring iconic symbols of sophistication.

Coco Chanel

An image of Kim Kardashian, no matter how well presented, is not on quite the same level.

4. Legend

Dictionary definition:


a :a story coming down from the past; especially :one popularly regarded as historical although not verifiable the legend of a lost continent Arthurian legends

b :a body of such stories a place in the legend of the frontier

c :a popular myth of recent origin the legend of the Loch Ness monster

d :a person or thing that inspires legends a baseball legend

e :the subject of a legend

Etymology of legend:

early 14c., “narrative dealing with a happening or an event,” from Old French legende (12c., Modern French légende) and directly from Medieval Latin legenda “legend, story,” especially lives of saints, which were formerly read at matins and in refectories of religious houses, literally “(things) to be read,” on certain days in church, etc., from Latin legendus, neuter plural gerundive of legere “to read; to gather, pluck, select,” from PIE root *leg- (1) “to collect, gather,” with derivatives meaning “to speak (to ‘pick out words’).”

Extended sense of “nonhistorical or mythical story,” with or without saints, wonders, and   miracles is first recorded late 14c. Meaning “writing or inscription” (especially on a coin or   medal) is from 1610s; on a map, illustration, etc., from 1903. To be a legend in (one’s) own   time is from 1958.

The idea of legend has evolved from meaning a mythical tale to incorporating famous people, stories of whom are now widely known.

The legend of King Arthur
Legendary Muhammad Ali

2016 was, in my opinion, a sad year for losing so many famous people who had contributed to art, music, theatre and popular culture. What remained most pertinent in my mind, was how often these very talented people were being referred to as legends or their work, legendary. One or two were genuinely legends – enormously famous, hugely influential and whose works have the brilliance to endure. The majority, however were not legends; most were gifted human beings who could momentarily lift our souls through their music or performance,

Contemporary misuse of the word has led media to refer to an individual who is considered to be cool, funny or has simply released their first album, as a legend. They are not, nothing more.

Let’s keep the word legend for those who truly deserve this accolade.

5. Literally

Dictionary definition:


In its standard use literally means ‘in a literal sense, as opposed to a non-literal or exaggerated sense’, as for example in I told him I never wanted to see him again, but I didn’t expect him to take it literally. In recent years an extended use of literally (and also literal) has become very common, where literally (or literal) is used deliberately in non-literal contexts, for added effect, as in they bought the car and literally ran it into the ground. This use can lead to unintentional humorous effects (we were literally killing ourselves laughing) and is not acceptable in formal contexts, though it is widespread.

Etymology of literally:

1530s, “in a literal sense, according to the exact meaning of the word or words used,” from literal + -ly (2). Since late 17c. it has been used in metaphors, hyperbole, etc., to indicate what follows must be taken in the strongest admissible sense. But this is irreconcilable with the word’s etymological sense and has led to the much-lamented modern misuse of it.

These two definitions explain how the word is now illogically misunderstood and misused. If the word means exactly, why is it being used figuratively?

Admittedly, plenty of respected authors including Thackeray, Fitzgerald, Dickens and Brontë have each used literally in their novels when actually meaning figuratively, and many a sentence would sound extremely odd if you were to say or write, for example, I am literally working 25 hours a day. You would not say, I am figuratively working 25 hours a day. But you get the gist. The word means exact and true, not exaggeration or hyperbole.  And I literally mean that ….

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