11 Incorrectly Used Words that Make You Look Bad

Updated to Life on December 18, 2022.

I was in a car the other day with a radiologist and a neurosurgeon talking about hypertension. 

This conversation is actually not as unusual as it might sound. I volunteer for a local society that does trail clearing in a popular hiking and mountain bike park and many of the volunteers happen to be recently retired doctors. 

Back in the car, one of the doctors happened to mention that recently his medical partner, who is in his early 60’s, had a mild stroke. As we wound our way further up the dirt road to our work site my education continued. 

I learned that strokes are the second biggest cause of mortality worldwide and the third most common cause of disability. The scary statistics get worse. As you age your chance of a stroke doubles every 10 years after 55

There’s a checklist of health conditions that make you more susceptible to a stroke, like obesity, high cholesterol, and diabetes. But the biggest culprit – six times out of ten – is hypertension or high blood pressure. In my books, that’s worth paying attention to.

What’s interesting is that stress, in itself, is not the direct cause of high blood pressure. It’s what we do when under stress that leads to nasty results. We eat too much, drink too much, and move too little. Basically, we deal with stress by making unhealthy choices.

For me, stress starts with worry.

Ngoc Son Temple, Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam

I’ve had a lot of worries

There is a world of problems you can worry about – take your pick. You can worry that Ukraine will be pummeled into a tiny province of rubble, or that we’ve passed the tipping point with global warming, or the tiny spot on your chin is cancer. 

Or not.

“I’ve had a lot of worries,” quipped Mark Twain “most of which never happened.” Our mind loves a good worry. Like a dog chewing a bone, we want to turn our worry around, looking from all angles, poking and prodding until it swells up into something bigger than it really is.

I used to worry incessantly before every keynote speech. I’d worry I’d miss my flight or wasn’t prepared enough, or I would be greeted by the “audience from hell.” Trust me, when you have 60 minutes to educate, entertain, inspire, motivate, and get laughs from an audience you’ve never met before, any sane person would invent a long list of worries.

It was at one of those events when a fellow speaker opened an exit door for my worries. He suggested that audiences don’t want you to fail – in fact, they want you to succeed. “They want to see you having fun—enjoying yourself. That way,” he explained, “they can enjoy the ride with you.”

When I accepted the long list of what I could never control – my flights, the audience, the speaker before me going overtime – I was free to focus on what I could control.

Enjoying the moment. 

What your life will have been

In her book, Comfortable with Uncertainty, Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön tells the story of delighting in the preciousness of every single moment.

A woman is running from lions. She runs and she runs, and the lions are getting closer. She comes to the edge of a cliff. She sees a vine there, so she climbs down and holds onto it. Then she looks down and sees that there are lions below her as well. At the same time, she notices a little mouse gnawing away at the vine to which she is clinging. She also sees a beautiful little bunch of strawberries emerging from a nearby clump of grass. She looks up, she looks down, and she looks a the mouse. Then she picks a strawberry, pops it in her mouth, and enjoys it thoroughly.

Learning what to focus on, and what to ignore, seems to be the ultimate secret to living a healthy, stress-free life. “Whatever compelled your attention from moment to moment,” writes Oliver Burkeman in Four Thousand Weeks (a must-read for anyone over 50), “is simply what your life will have been.”

So, what are you focussing on?

What to focus on

You can learn a lot when you’re the dumbest one in a car full of doctors. I learned that strokes are a silent pandemic. And that hypertension is the leading cause of that pandemic. And I learned the leading cause of hypertension is stress. 

I was also reminded that stress is a choice.

We all have lions and tigers in our life. Maybe even a mouse or two gnawing away at something we value. Meanwhile, we have the moment.

Choosing what to focus on (and what not to) might just be the healthiest choice you can make.

Got this far? You might also like these posts:

Photo of eggs by Nik on Unsplash
Photo of Ngoc Son Temple by author
Photo of tigers by author

I’m not a word-nerd, really.

But, when I’m scrolling through your post or email, or book draft, or whatever and come across a word that doesn’t belong (or, for that matter, doesn’t exist) I come to a screeching stop—can’t help it.

So, I thought I would save you the embarrassment and share a list of 11 words commonly misused.

You can thank me by adding your own examples in the comments below.

Hair we go (just kidding).

1 – Everyday and every day

Years ago, my wife and I were driving a rented convertible VW in Baja, with our 6 year old daughter in the back, when I saw an airline’s billboard that, in part, read “veulos total dia” (flights all day).

Trying to sound smart, I started asking anyone serving us if they had what I wanted “total dia”. The comical looks I received told the whole story; what I should have asked was do they have it every day (“¿cada dia?”)     .

In English, we say everyday when we mean common or normal, as in “It became an everyday occurrence.”

Whereas, every day means today, tomorrow, the next day and so on, as in “It happens every day.”

2 – Adapt and adopt

If you adapt something you change it, to adopt is to take it as your own. So, after you read this list you can adopt the correct word use and adapt it for your blog.

3 – Already and all ready

You can simplify this one by thinking of already as talking about the past, as in “I already told him that.” And all ready as being about the future, as in “I was all ready to tell him that.”

Have you got that already?

4 – Regardless and Irregardless

Let’s set the record straight on this one: “irregardless” is not a word – the word you want is regardless. Regardless of what you’re working on or speaking about, that should make you sound smarter.

5 – Especially and specially

This is one of those examples you might need to say out loud to know which to use.

Usually, especially means particularly, as in “The speech was especially difficult to finish”.

Whereas specially usually means “in a special or careful manner” or “specifically”, like “She made a special effort for that client.”

That was an especially subtle distinction.

6 – Between and among

Use between when you’re distinguishing between a list of separate, distinct items, like: “The difference between a Frappuccino, latte and espresso is…”

Use among when you talking about things that are not distinct, like “There’s a big difference among bloggers.” You can also use among to indicate someone is part of a group, like: “She felt at home among the coffee drinking bloggers.”

7 – Advise and advice

Put simply, advise is a verb, advice is a noun. The quickest test is to say your sentence out loud. Like this one: “Nobody goes to a coach for advise.”

8 – Stationary and stationery

You write on stationery that is (hopefully) stationary. Get it?

9 – Principle and principal

Your high school principal might have taught you principles – you might even say that was principally her job.

My trick to remember the difference between principal and principle is the “pal” in principal refers to a person – so then principle must be the other meaning.

There’s lots of other meaning for principal, including the non-interest part of your loan and principal in a firm (as in high-level partner).

10 – Then and than

When you use then you’re talking about time, as in, “I finished my blog and then doubled checked it against Hugh’s list of 11 incorrectly used words.”

You use than to compare something, such as “After reading Hugh’s list I’m smarter than before.” (of course you are).

11 – Impact, affect and effect

This is a tricky one.

First, impact should only be used when there is a physical action involved, like “I was impacted from behind.”

Use effect if you are making the change happen and affect if you are helping make the change happen.

Bottom line: stop saying you’ll impact: change, sales, productivity or your marriage (especially marriage); use affect.