Picture of words in a dictionary. Words that aren't works, like alot or a lot.

5 Common Words That Aren’t Words At All

The English language is a fluid and dynamic beast, constantly changing as snow flurries of neologisms are added to the public vocabulary every day.

It’s beautiful, really.

The explosion of new words has been fuelled, in part, by the explosion of TV and the internet over the past two decades. For instance, did you know the Simpsons created ‘meh’?

And that everyone thinks the show also invented the words ‘cromulent’ and ‘embiggen’ – except that ‘embiggen’ was actually discovered in an issue of Oxford lexicographical journal Notes & Queries from 1894?

Both those words, to make a labored point, are perfectly cromulent. But, for every clever new one coined, there’s always someone who throws up a word that’s misspelled, misheard, or just plain misguided.

In the spirit of fun, today we include our favorite common words that often don’t mean what people think they mean – or are simply outright wrong.

You’ll almost certainly be used to seeing some of these across your own social media timelines… so if you’re the kind of person who just can’t help themselves when it comes to correcting others in the social corners of the internet, be warned: this will not be pleasant!


1. Alot

“The alot is better than you at everything,” says online humor blog Hyperbole and a Half. Its author imagines the alot as a hairy creature the more grammatically challenged amongst us like to talk about in YouTube comments, to deal with the fact that those commenting are probably trying to say ‘a lot,’ as in a great quantity or measure.

‘A lot’ – the aforementioned reference to quantity – is two words. ‘Allot’ means to allocate, or assign (“he wrote his essay in the allotted time”) and it’s also where we get the term ‘allotments’ to describe portions of rented land used to grow flowers or vegetables. 

But alas, ‘alot’ is not a word.


2. Sherbert

This one’s more common for our British friends, but there’s a reason that squiggly red line shows up when you’re messaging your significant other to pick you up some ice cream on the way home. It’s actually ‘sherbet,’ meaning a confection.

In the US, it commonly refers to a frozen treat, and in the UK it’s fizzy powdered sugar. Nobody has any idea why people started calling it ‘sherbert.’ Maybe to rhyme with ‘Herbert’?


3. Irregardless

This word had its prefix bolted on sometime around the 19th century, but it has never quite found its way into modern acceptability.

This is mainly because, etymologically, it doesn’t seem to follow standard rules. You see, ‘irregardless’ means the same thing as ‘regardless.’ The negative prefix is a complete waste of time, and as such has relegated the word’s position to little more than a mockery in modern standard English.

But, slightly breaking the title proposition of this article, it is a word.


4. Misunderestimate

“Don’t misunderestimate me!”

Unfortunately for those who choose to share their woe at having misunderestimated something, there’s no such recognized formal word.

One may underestimate or misestimate – but to misunderestimate is a blunder of proportions larger than the intended meaning.


5. Definately

Regarded as the most common misspelling in the English language, this one-letter mangling of ‘definitely’ is almost impossible to avoid in a world filled with instant text-based communication.

It’s so familiar, in fact, that it’s easy to ascertain what someone was attempting to say when their autocorrected message states “I defiantly will.”

We immediately assume – rightly or wrongly – that they aren’t intending to send resistance our way. Rather, we know they mean they fully intend to do what you’ve asked them. But they definitely didn’t hit the right letters when spelling the word.


BONUS: The Eggcorn

Always fun is something called an ‘eggcorn.’ Defined as a word or phrase that results from a mishearing or misinterpretation of another, common eggcorns include such gems as ‘tow the line,’ ‘escape goat,’ ‘illicit a response,’ ‘wheelbarrel,’ and ‘for all intensive purposes.’

The word originates from someone who once called an acorn an ‘eggcorn.’ It’s safe to say they were probably laughed at for a very long time.



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