Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Gripes of a Native English Speaker

OK, you are right, this is very picky. I like language – I love a good word in the right place. There are some things you can read that make my heart flutter, they are so elegant, so eloquent.

It doesn’t have to be a big word, or a fancy word – it has to be a word that grabs your attention because of it’s . . . fitness, it’s rightness in the context.

So here are my two gripes. And these are words used and abused by native English speakers!

Anxious – Eager
People use anxious all the time when they mean eager. I am anxious to see you. I anxiously await your letter. Anxious has an undertone of concern. If you are anxious, you are a little worried about something.

While eager is 100%, no-stopping, no holding back, happy anticipation. I am EAGER to see you again. I am EAGER to get your letter (and I expect only good things).

Don’t worry. You will see it used wrongly all the time, and you will hear it all the time. I know I am writing this for nothing, I am just getting it on paper because it drives me wild. I am sharing the agony – you will start hearing it, too, and I hope it will drive you wild.

Decimate – Devastate

You would think newscasters would know better, but they use decimate all the time, when they mean devastate. Decimate has a very strict meaning – when Roman troops would decimate, every tenth soldier would fall out. A division would be decimated – it’s strength would fall by 10%.

Devastate, on the other hand, implies utter distruction. Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. The huge Tsunami devastated Indonesia and Thailand. An earthquake devastated villages in Pakistan – destroyed, destroyed utterly.

I feel so much better 🙂

October 17, 2006 - Posted by | Communication, Language, Words


  1. bravo 3aleiki ya khalti!

    as for me, I cannot stand the mis-uses of discrete. as when told, for example: please be discrete. ummmm …

    I do understand the confusion. after all, discreet becomes discretion when used as a noun.


    discrete: separate, detached from others, individually distinct.

    discreet: showing discernment or judgement in the guidance of one’s own speeah and actions; judicious, prudent, circumspect, cautious.

    (source is OED but it requires a university affiliation to access the website)

    of course I make ridiculous mistakes all the time. for the first three years of my Arabic study, I routinely used “kataba” when I meant “qara'” [qara2 in chat]. it was endlessly amusing for my instructors, who would often ask hopefully: 3azizti, madha f3alti imbari7a? [what did you do last night?] I would faithfully answer, ya ustadh, ana katabtu riwaya jayyida [I wrote a good book (really, a novel)]. hiding their smiles, they would ask: wallah 7abibti, kanat f3alan riwayatan jayyidatan? [was it truly a good book?] and we would go from there.

    it was worse when the kitab in question was a nuss, a text I had been assigned for another course, and I would go on and on about how useful it was, what a terrific contribution to the field, etc. as if I were truly, as one of my father’s expressions goes, a legend in my own mind.

    Comment by adiamondinsunlight | October 17, 2006 | Reply

  2. Ho ho ho – I also remember when my husband told his Arabic instructors that he liked adventure – but he mistakenly used a word that meant erotic/amorous adventure. It was the one funny moment in his final exams.

    Comment by intlxpatr | October 17, 2006 | Reply

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