When I come across a news item with a common error, I make a note of it. Here are some recent ones:
“There are many versions of the history and entomology of the words used in fairy tales…”
Entomology means the scientific study of insects, so I’m hazarding a guess the writer meant to say etymology, the study of the origin of words. Insects don’t feature in fairy tales that much. These two words are often mixed up.
“I’ve just seen a film entitled The Imitation Game..”
What’s wrong with this sentence? The word ‘entitled’ is often used in this way, but it should just be ‘titled’. Entitled means having the right to something, such as being entitled to your pay at the end of the week or being entitled to your opinion since you have the right to speak your mind. You might hear that a spoilt child has a sense of entitlement.
“Spectators were bemused at the sight of the row of ducklings following their mother across the path of the swimming race…”
Bemused is often thought to mean ‘wryly amused’ but it really means bewildered. The situation above hardly sounds bewildering.
“Despite the warnings, surfers were quite nonplussed about the shark sightings…”
Another word that means bewildered, nonplussed has started being used to mean ‘unfazed’. Nonplussed comes from the Latin non plus ‘no more’, and I suspect it gets confused with the word ‘nonchalant’. I don’t suppose the surfers would be all that confused to hear sharks were in the ocean.
Getting the meanings of words correct is very important in conveying our messages clearly, but it’s also true that the English language is constantly changing and eventually some of the new meanings above will become the norm. We see this all the time in dictionaries – both meanings and spellings, when wrongly used regularly enough, become the accepted version.
Awful, silly and nice once meant, respectively, awesome, blessed and ignorant. Careen once meant ‘lurch along wildly at high speed’ but the word career was so often substituted that it has now been accepted in the dictionary with that meaning.
That’s the nature of the English language, flexible and non-judgemental. It truly is the language of the people who speak it.