Do you use the wrong word or the right word wrong? Do you reach for your thesaurus as a surefire way to sound smarter (or irrefragably phrenic?) Watch out. Misuses of words (and other malaprops) can make you sound like you’re trying too hard and you’ll seem abstruse. You also need to be aware of these 50 words you think are synonyms but aren’t.
Here are some examples of thesaurus-gone-wrong situations:
I’m feeling very borborygmic, gastroenterologically speaking.
The fantastic word borborygmus derives from the Greek “borboryzein,” meaning to rumble. But this isn’t any old rumbling. It’s the word for the gurgles and growls that come from your stomach as gas moves its way through your intestines. In his book I Always Look Up the Word “Egregious“ Maxwell Nurnberg writes the word is onomatopoeic “imitative of the sounds made” during such tummyish burble jabber.
Keep it simple: Basic is best here—use “hungry” or “starving” or for more color, try hyperbole such as “I’m so hungry, I could eat a cow.”
What should I use for my papuliferous complexion?
Papuliferous is the adjectival form of papule—which is just your basic pimple. You know, a zit. Boil. Pock. Pustule. Milium. Protuberance. A minor mark or imperfection. No biggie!
Keep it simple: Just say “pimply”—but not to describe the behavior of pimps.
Proceed straight through the vomitory.
Use vomitory to describe “an entrance piercing the banks of seats of a theater, amphitheater, or stadium.” Or to name a person who belches or spews—either use skews a tad obnoxious.
Keep it simple: if you’re looking for a synonym for vomit try “regurgitate,” “throw up,” or perhaps, get verbose and say “to discharge the contents of one’s stomach via one’s mouth”—or not.
The couple felt a cementitious bond.
While it’s true that love is bonding, this adjective, meaning cement-like, is better suited to descriptions of mortar. Consider what you’re actually trying to say as you choose words. Does the love cling or adhere? Is the love the cement holding you both together or is it a more gluey attachment? If the bond is cement-like is it devoted or affixed with sealant? Consider the tone and tenor of your word choices.
Keep it simple: The couple felt a rock-solid bond
Why do teens insist on wearing galligaskins?
Galligaskins are very, very baggy pants, or loose and wide hosiery from the 16th century when hosiery was apparently loose and wide. It won’t do to try to use this term in a modern sense. To sound hipper, try one of these 30 slang words from 2019 we love.
Keep it simple: Instead, use words like “trousers,” “breeches,” “slacks,” or “jeans”—and if you want to get extra fogey go with “jodhpurs” or “dungarees.”
The pie crust had an oleaginous texture.
Oleaginous, which has an almost-musical pronunciation, simply means having the properties of oil, containing it (as derived from olives) or resembling it. The term also skews greasy with connotations of things or persons who are too slick for their own good. Use it for things that are overly-gushing like an unctuous compliment.
Keep it simple: Go with: The pie crust had a buttery texture.
Serve the pâté on milquetoast.
Milquetoast so resembles milk toast it seems like it must be a fancy kind of crisp, heated bread, especially with the quaint spelling of milk. It isn’t. It’s a word for a sniveling person who’s easy to intimidate. You know the type. It comes from the last name of a classic comic book character from The Timid Soul.
Use it correctly: The word describes meek and deferential slice-of-toast type bland persons, as in, “She used to like bad boys; quite a contrast to her milquetoast new boyfriend.”
The bearded fellow wore his hair in a furibund atop his head.
Furibund has nothing to do with fur, but lots to do with fury. It means raging and frenzied. Use it to describe people who tend to go ape or otherwise throw a fit if they’re seething or irate.
Keep it simple: If you need a word for a bun hairstyle try “chignon,” “updo,” or “hipster knot.”
Passionate cupidity brims on Valentine’s Day.
Cupid is a darling cherub, granted one armed with arrows, but cupidity is a long way from romance and wooing. Synonyms for it are greed, avarice, and graspingness. It does have Latin roots meaning to desire and covet, which sounds enchanting until it curves toward ravenous and greedy.
Use it correctly: The heirs’ cupidity over the inheritance was startling.
Storm’s on the way. The clouds look so precarious.
Precarious has a lovely ring to it, but it doesn’t work here. It’s an adjective you can use to refer to unstable situations, high risk, or a lack of foundation. Technically, storm clouds lack a foundation, but precarious would be better used to describe thin ice or a job with an uncertain future.
Keep it simple: Try “heavy” or even “overcast,” sometimes the right word is the one most direct and simple.
This romance novel is very piperaceous.
Spicy works to describe romance, but the synonym piperaceous leans toward a very specific kind of spice as an adjective describing a family of plants. Since they’re peppers, yes, they’re spicy, but piperaceous doesn’t get at the meaning of spicy that leans more toward racy or lively.
Keep it simple: Stick with “spicy,” “heart-racing,” or “racy.”
Would you like to join me during your refection break to sip libation?
Refection, the “taking of refreshment,” technically works in this context, but it leans formal and almost monastical (that is, archaic and doctrinal.) Refection originates in the 14th century as a refreshment for mind or body, as well as spiritual sustenance.
Keep it simple: A simple, “let’s catch up over lunch” is more straightforward—and comprehensible.
My rage is fumarolic!
Technically, a fumarole is the hole at the top of a volcano where you find all the hot gases and steam. It comes from the Late Latin fumariolum meaning vent. So, you’re venting volcanically? Letting off steam? Fumarolic is a good word and it seems to apply, but you might make everyone who’s not a geologist piping mad.
Keep it simple: Try “furious,” “irate,” or “livid.” Then take a walk around the clock to cool down.
Please refrain from ululating.
Keep it simple: Use “wails” or “yowls” if the sound is a sad one or “whoops” on a happy occasion.
He shot his rival a rebarbative glance.
According to Merriam-Webster, the etymology of rebarbative links to beard (their prickles) and to barbs (that also have a certain sharpness.) Rebarbative is a word with many shades of meaning, with synonyms ranging from abrasive to galling to plaguey. If you use it, make sure it hits on (or precisely stabs!) your intended meaning.
Keep it simple: Stick with “a dirty look.”
The party was so lit, but now I’m totally crapulous.
This word derives from the Latin “crapula” which has roots in the ancient Greek word for headache. It means sick from drinking, but also drunk.
Keep it simple: There’s so many synonyms and phrases for such a state: “soused,” “sloshed,” “tanked,” or “three sheets to the wind.” Choose your poison.
The best co-parents form a bicephalous regime.
This zoological term means to have two heads. However, the meaning of head shifts from the biological topmost container of the brain to a leader—a person in charge. You can use bicephalous in that regard, but prepare to bewilder your audience.
Keep it simple: Try a descriptive phrase, like “a team with two coaches” or “play good cop/bad cop.”
I asked my boss for hebdomadal paychecks, and she was like, what?
The root word, from the Greek hepta, seven, makes this a fancy word for the calendar week or anything weekly. It’s rare to see, but so are good synonyms for weekly if you mean, every seven days specifically and not routine, recurring, or serial.
Keep it simple: Go with “every seven days” or, you know, “weekly.”
To avoid wasting paper, I just use my palimpsest.
Palimpsest is the word for a tablet, usually an ancient one, with parchment that has been written on multiple times, revealing the previous text underneath. In that case, it also describes anything multi-layered. Using palimpsest is peak pretension! Go for it, only if you dare.
Keep it simple: Go with “scratchpad” or “notebook.”
You’re so late—I’ve been waiting for a million parsecs.
The character Han Solo from Star Wars is particularly adept at parsecs—or light speed? Probably? According to Merriam-Webster, a parsec is “a unit of measure for interstellar space that is equal to 3.26 light-years and is the distance to an object having a parallax of one second as seen from points separated by one astronomical unit.”
Keep it simple: Complain that you’ve been “waiting for a million years” if you want your exaggeration more down-to-earth.
I’m going to titivate the fireplace to make it a focal point.
To titivate is to spruce up or smarten up. It’s listed as a synonym for spruce in the sense of that word as to neaten. However, it’s not as neat or smart or sleek as other synonyms like primp. If you need an antonym, try uglify.
Keep it simple: Instead, go with “spruce up”, “primp”, or “deck out.”
You have a capacity for emacity!
If you want to get drastically roguish with your vocab, aim for the rare and uncommon. The Latinitium offers ĕmācĭtas as a “propensity to buy, a desire to always be buying.” You have to modernize the form to get to emacity, but then you’ve bought yourself a $10 dollar word!
Keep it simple: Go with “overspend” or call the person a “shopaholic.”
Next, try these 10 old-fashioned words that will make you sound smart on for size.