Lightning bugs, doggone it!

“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.”

These are famous words by Mark Twain, a man who knew a thing or seven about picking exactly the right word.

This weekend I read two books by well-known writers. Their names are not the point of this little rant so I won’t mention them. Both writers used the word “disinterested” to mean “uninterested.”

Uh. No. Sorry. Lightning bug!

Disinterested simply is not a synonym for uninterested. Disinterest means impartiality, to be above the argument. A disinterested person is impartial. Uninterested means not to care, to be indifferent. An uninterested person is bored. Not the same thing at all.

Last week I read that a character was “totally nonplussed.” Okay, fine. Except that in the context of the sentence, what the writer meant was not nonplussed (bewildered, at a loss, perplexed) but nonchalant, unfazed. Uh. Really not the same thing.

When you use a word and it’s not the right word, you can say something you completely don’t intend.

The difference between lightning and lightning bugs, people.

And, sometimes, the difference between sense and nonsense.

3 Responses to “Lightning bugs, doggone it!”

  1. demilo19 says:

    Doesn’t help that some words have been SO misused that their meaning is changing as the PUBLIC now identifies with the wrong word.

    I am not always correct but thankfully I have smart friends who will let me know when I have made an error.

    And sometimes, I look in the dictionary just for the fun of it.

    Anyway, I cam across this the other day and thought I would share since you might get a kick out of the subject matter.

  2. demilo19 says:

    Just a note: today I was writing a comment to a writer and was about to use ‘nonplussed’ when suddenly I went, “that’s not the right word!”

    I then checked the handy-dandy blog by Mary Ann and…realized, I wanted nonchalant.

    Thank you!

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