Jan. 18 is National Thesaurus Day, and to
celebrate the day, we decided to bust some myths about words. English is a flexible and ever-changing language, but it’s always a good idea to brush up on your language skills.
We chose three words from Harvard cognitive scientist and linguist Steven Pinker’s latest book, “The Sense of Style,” which addresses several misunderstood words.
This is an easy one to mix up, due to another word: uninterested.
- What people think it means: bored or indifferent (synonyms for uninterested)
- What it actually means: impartial or unbiased
How to use it: “The dispute should be resolved by a disinterested judge.”
People often miss some letters in the middle of this word and think it’s “homogenous.”
- How people often say it: huh-MAHjenus
- How it should be said: homo-genius
Homogenous actually isn’t a word at all, but a “corruption of homogenized.”
- How to use homogeneous correctly: “The population was not homogeneous; it was a melting pot.”
- What people think it is: a synonym for simple
- What it really is: basically, a slam
Simplistic truly means naively or overly simple, so if someone’s answer or explanation is simplistic, it means they may not have a full understanding of the topic.
Who or what counts as an urban legend? Pinker’s definitions make it clear: urban legends are stories, not legendary people.
- What people think it means: someone who is legendary in a city
- What it actually means: an intriguing and widely circulated but false story
Word myths, busted. To wrap up this Mythbusting Monday, we’ll leave you with this quote:
A synonym is a word you use when you can’t spell the word you first thought of.
— Burt Bacharach