Carnage and compel: A look at words with new meanings

by Stratton Craig

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Following our blog on The Apprentice and the misuse of the word ‘decadence’, we had a good look at the way people write and realised that our society is littered with people using words that don’t mean what they think they mean or have a meaning that has changed over time.
An ‘acyrologia’ is an inexact, inappropriate or improper use of a word. You can find them all over the place; in newspapers, on billboards and even in company names. On The Apprentice ‘decadence’ was used to represent ten years, as the girls thought it was a clever play on the word decade. It actually means: ‘moral or cultural decline as characterised by excessive indulgence in pleasure or luxury’. Certainly not what they intended.
Here are some other words often used in the wrong way or a modern context.
Carnage – used wrongly
Widely used by sports reporters to describe a passage of play or a match where one side clearly outplays the other. You’ll see it regularly on the back pages of newspapers but it actually means something far worse than a bad sporting defeat.
A BBC Sport reporter recently wrote this about Celtic’s 6-0 defeat of Partick Thistle in the Scottish Football Premier League: “As the carnage unfolded, Griffiths arrived on the scene and headed an Izaguirre cross past Scott Fox.”
The real meaning of carnage? The killing of a large number of people.
Enormity – evolved meaning
When George W Bush Senior was elected President of the USA in 1989 he said that he “couldn’t believe the enormity of the situation”.
The original meaning of the word enormity meant ‘extreme evil’ or ‘a grave crime or sin’ e.g. the enormities of war. Now, we might know it to more commonly mean ‘immenseness’ or ‘vastness’.
Chronic – used wrongly
Many people describe a strong or particularly bad pain as being ‘chronic’ but the word actually refers to a pain, illness or condition that has lasted a long time or keeps returning.
Compel – used wrongly
Normally used to suggest that you felt like you had to do something, e.g. “I felt compelled to go and visit my mother.”
It actually means to force (somebody) to do something, often by pressure or force.
Instant – evolved meaning 
Nowadays, when you hear the word ‘instant’ you assume that whatever it is referring to will be quick. But the original meaning of the noun meant a precise moment in time. Google Instant is a great example of a brand using the word with its newer meaning.
Can you think of any other words that are used incorrectly or have had their definition changed? Share them with us via Twitter – @strattoncraig

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