Languages are living things that evolve over time, with new words created and old ones falling out of common use. Still, just because a lot of people use a word, or use it in a new way, doesn’t make it correct.
When you use words incorrectly, you’ll look less professional and run the risk of irritating people who care about language—people who could be your co-workers, clients or boss.
Veteran copy editor and “word nerd” Tom Stern offers words and phrases to watch out for:
- Snuck. A lot of people think it’s the past tense of “sneak,” but they’re wrong. The past tense of “sneak” is “sneaked.”
- Flout. People often confuse “flout,” which means to ignore or disregard, with “flaunt,” which means to display ostentatiously. “Don’t flaunt your ignorance by flouting the correct usage of flout,” Stern warns.
- Close proximity. First, “proximity” means closeness, so you’re essentially saying “close closeness.” Second, it’s always better to use simple, clear language, so in most cases “near” or “nearby” would work better.
- More/most importantly. The “ly” is almost always incorrect and unnecessary. You can simply say “more important” or “most important” and save yourself from sounding pompous.
- Imposter. This is common and some dictionaries even acknowledge its use, but the correct spelling is “impostor.”
— Adapted from “More Mangled Language and Pompous Usages to Avoid,” Tom Stern, GrammarBook.com Blog.