7 words in the English language which I thought meant something, but they didn’t

When you grow up as a reader, you develop a certain aura. There’s definitely some truth to the rumors that engulf a geek at college: Standoffish. Snobbish. Prudish. Misfit. Antisocial. Know-it-all. Idealist. Dreamy. They’re all phrases and ideas commonly associated with a nerd. And being one, I can’t mount an adequate defense against those notions, so I’ll acquiesce to this much: Readers are weird.

One of the most commonly experienced problems of people who read too much, is that they don’t talk too much. And because they don’t talk too much, one of the deficiencies in their oratory skills, is pronunciation and word-meaning. Because our eyes simply scan the words as we read them and our mental voices follow the train of thought, we never learn to speak those words out loud. With the result that we often mispronounce and even more often, mistake the meaning of the word.

If you were as hopeless a case as I was, then I’m sure you were probably too lazy to consult a dictionary. How often have you spent your summer afternoons like I did, basking in the warm sunlight, lost in your own world, completely oblivious to your surroundings? How many of you were traversing the corridors of Hogwarts, learning spells and battling Voldemort, or advocating for civil rights in the 50s like Atticus Finch or running from a mad-axe murderer in a gloomy hotel like Danny Torrance? And how many times did you have a dictionary open? Or did you, like me, vaguely comprehend the meaning of some foreign word by simply looking at the words around it?

If you did the latter, then you know how many times you’ve been wrong. And as a bookworm, that always stings. When you get the meaning, the syntax, the grammar and the pronunciation wrong, it feels like a favorite pet just bit you in the ass.

If you’re still smarting from a mistake you’ve made while speaking the language of the British, then I suggest you look through my biggest boo-boos in the English language and I guarantee you’ll feel better:

  1. Defect and Defecate: For some bizarre reason I always thought defect meant defecate because I never noticed that crucial ‘a’ in between. So whenever I read that some party member had recently publicly ‘defected’, I thought:                                                                         “Well that’s nasty. But isn’t that more of a  public indecency offense? Why would it be political?”                                                                                                            
  2. Footstool and Passing stools: Oh that was a bad one. When I was 11, I had to give a stool test. When my dad told me about it I was, quite simply, flabbergasted. Why would I have to first climb footstools and then get off them subsequently for doctors to know whether I had healthy bowels? Surely passing stools would have something to do with literally passing from one stool to another? I cannot describe how my dad roared with laughter when I explained my dilemma to him.
  3. S’more and Some More: Granted this is an American tradition and we Indians very rarely have campfires and roast marshmallows by the heat, but this one really baffled me. When I read the lines “He asked for s’mores“, I thought, Oh well, he’s asking for some more…… but some more of what?                                                                                                                
  4. Peculiar and well, a non-existent word: I never could quite get the pronunciation of Peculiar. I remember when I was out playing with a friend one day, we saw a dog howling in the middle of the road, and I, trying to sound wise about it said “Well that’s pesular.” My friend, being older and probably more well-read turned around with eyes the size of dinner plates “What’s pesular?“. “It means strange or weird” I retorted haughtily to which she responded, “Ha! That’s peculiar, silly”. However, until I was well into my teens, I maintained that anything odd was ‘Pesular’.                                                                                
  5. Anti-Climax and no climax: I really and truly believed that the word Anti-Climax was ridiculous. When people gushed about the anti-climax in a book I thought “That’s stupid. If it were anti climax, then it wouldn’t have a climax right?”. I thought anti-climax meant something which was quite literally anti the climax. Like a book that never ended. Or ended on a cliff-hanger. Or had an open ending. Unfortunately, the word climax is often used for orgasm as well. And I thought anti-climax in sex meant women who couldn’t ‘finish’.
  6. Exorcise and Exercise: When someone said “I need to exorcise my demons” I thought it meant going for a jog with them. I actually imagined myself going off on a gentle trot, accompanied by two or three dark, lurking, sinister shapes with horns, following me like well-behaved bulldogs. When I read the title “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” I thought “How dull. Does she run in the Olympics or something?”                                                                                                                         
  7. And for my last act……drum roll……the Clitoris!: Thankfully I wasn’t introduced to this word too early in life, otherwise I would’ve made a bigger fool of myself than I already have. Not all of us pay attention to 7th grade biology, especially reproductive organs and I was no different. While I definitely paid a lot of attention to the male parts, it never occurred to me that someday I might need to know the female parts too. I believed, until the age of 17, that clitoris was a museum exhibit. Like Clitorosauras-Rex. Or the Clitorious Troglodyte from the Cretaceous Period. It just seemed too archaic a word to actually mean…well….that. It was only when my boyfriend reassured me that it didn’t belong in a museum, that I actually understood what it meant.

Did you make any Boo-boos while growing up reading? Drop a line here in the comments section and have a great week ahead! Until then,  proprie loquendo! 

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Published by: Abby

Abha is a law student in her early 20s, an aspiring women and child welfare lawyer, a speaker on child sexual abuse and an advocate for gender equality. She enjoys reading romantic thrillers, running after her wayward Alsatian and practicing Buddhism. She loves home-cooked food, electronic rock from the 80s and videos of soldiers reuniting with their kids/dogs.

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