An ‘enormity’ is not a ‘travesty’

The 10 Words That You’ve Probably Been Misusing start with “travesty,” which is not a tragedy or unfortunate event, writes Tyler Vendetti on Hello Giggles.  It’s actually a mockery or parody.Cover edit 3

“Enormity” refers to extreme evil, not extreme size, asserts Vendetti.

“Terrific” means “causing terror” rather than awesome or fantastic.

I’d say the meanings of both words have expanded over time to include huge and awesome.

Other frequently misused words are “ironic,” “peruse,” “bemused,”  “compelled,” “nauseous,” “conversate,” and “redundant,” writes Vendetti.

I’ve always had trouble remembering that “bemused” means “confused,” but I solve it by not using it. I can’t say “peruse” shows up much in daily conversation either.  I never use “conversate,” because it’s not a word. “Converse” is.

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  1. Mark Roulo says:

    Tyler Vendetti seems to not understand that some words have multiple dictionary entries …


    [Spoiler Alert! :-)]


    Like “Nauseous” and “Enormity”.

    • She also seems to not understand the concept of language change. It is indeed ironic that she substitutes an outdated definition for “terrific” while being totally unaware of the origins of both “awesome” and “fantastic.”

      I note that one of her sources is not the O.E.D.; otherwise, she would not have balked at “enormity,” as you say:-)

  2. “Conversate” and “administrate” are two non-words that drive me nuts!

    • According to my Websters New World Dictionary, administrate is a word. This is from the 1982 edition so administrate has been a word for quite a while.

  3. Don’t even get me started on reiterate …

  4. Obi-Wandreas says:

    The misuse of ‘travesty’ probably comes from the phrase “travesty of justice.” That would describe a situation which was an outrage, thus leading to common misuse of travesty alone as describing an outrage. I have never heard travesty used to describe something which was merely unfortunate.

    Even more frustrating is the problem that arises when dictionaries get definitions wrong. Classic example is the Oxford Dictionary, which to this day has the definition of “podcast” wrong. (It defines it merely as a downloadable multimedia file, completely ignoring the idea of subscribing for automatic download, which is what actually defines a podcast)

  5. Michael E. Lopez says:

    There are two underlying issues that need to be identified here.

    The first is that, as many have pointed out, the persistent misusing of a word by a majority of people *changes* what the word “means”. If everyone on the planet except me thinks “nauseous” means “feeling sick”, then damnit, it means feeling sick. “Nauseated” and “nauseous” can mean one thing, while “nauseating” can mean the other. So I want to go on record as saying that I’m not a prescriptivist about language insofar as I think that words mean things and that meaning can’t change.


    Words do mean things, at least for a time. Language evolves as a way of describing our world, and we have different words for different sorts of situations, events, phenomena, feelings, activities, objects, senses, etc. When language use gets sloppy, we can LOSE the ability to make certain distinctions, which means that we can lose the ability to express certain sorts of thoughts.

    An extreme example: If the only negatively-charged word that a child knows is “sucks”, then in the child’s world, all of the following are true:

    Bedtime, eggplant, and the third Transformer movie all suck.
    The bully at school and being grounded really sucks.
    Hitler and AIDS really *really* suck.

    All argument by the child on these topics will be reduced to degrees of suckitude, to brash expressions of personal displeasure. Conversation and deliberation will be unproductive. But words like, “unfortunate”, and “evil”, and “painful”, and “unfair”, and “putrid” allow us to conversate. 🙂

    The danger is that if the use of, say, ironic expands out to cover not just those things that are truly ironic, but those things that are merely coincidental, then we lose the ability to easily distinguish what really is ironic.

    And if peruse means to browse or skim (which are themselves different words) then what word means peruse? I guess we could use “read”, but that doesn’t really get at it, does it? “Really read”? “Really really read”?

    That’s what I find unacceptable, and that’s where I am willing to tell, say, my friends or my students that they are using a word incorrectly. Language evolves, yes. But we need not be passive players.

    Many of the words on this list do not present this danger, though. We have so many words that mean the various sorts of things that “travesty” is taken to mean that we don’t really lose that much by changing its meaning. English has SO much redundant vocabulary thanks to events in 1066 A.D. and 146 B.C. (and elsewhen) that it can take undergo tremendous change and still be an awesomely expressive language.

    So with all that said, what words am I personally guilty of misusing? Well, I know what travesty means… but I’ve likely used its more metaphorical applications so frequently and habitually that I could be seen as guilty of misusing it.

    I’m guilty when it comes to enormity, though. Mea maxima culpa.

    I am, however, unsure of the enormity of that sin.

    • Mark Roulo says:

      “When language use gets sloppy, we can LOSE the ability to make certain distinctions, which means that we can lose the ability to express certain sorts of thoughts.”


      This is one of my pet peeves, too! As an example … “unique” being used to mean “rare” as opposed to “one of a kind.” We now get the construct “very rare”, which makes no sense if unique means “one of a kind.” We don’t *NEED* to morph unique into a synonym for rare as we already have the word rare. Sigh 🙁


      The good news is that we don’t “lose the ability to express certain sorts of thoughts.” We just have to be verbose. I can say “one of a kind” instead of “unique.” I can say “read carefully” instead of “scan” (scan slowly becoming a synonym for skim …). But I don’t *like* it!

    • What amuses me is that the hijacking of “gay” by homosexuals has resulted in the word becoming a pejorative.  “That is so gay.”

      They own it.

      • Florida resident says:

        I am offended when somebody uses
        “exponentially”, meaning
        “extremely large”, “much larger”.
        Exponentially means growth
        (or, to that matter, decrease)
        according to the law of geometrical progression.
        You can not establish geometrical progression based on two terms only.

  6. I gave up a long time ago on most folks (esp. those in the media) understanding what “decimate” originally meant. (Losing a tenth, rather than wholesale destruction, which is the way it’s usually used)

    However, I still grit my teeth every time someone says “enormity” when they actually mean “enormous.”

    But yes, as Michael alluded to, I also have problems with people who have apparently extremely small vocabularies, so “suck” (or another word that rhymes with it) takes the place of any other possible negative designation of something. (And that “other” word? I’ve been told it will function as any part of speech. Okay, verb, noun, and interjection I can see….)