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5 Common Words That Aren’t Words At All

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

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.

What are your favorite (okay, that might not be the correct word) common errant words, misspellings, and/or eggcorns? Do you find your writer’s mind frustrated or amused when they pop up throughout everyday life? Get sharing in the comments below, if your sanity holds out!


Join the Discussion on “5 Common Words That Aren’t Words At All”

  1. Brendan Boyle says:

    Irregardless of the inflammable situation…

    I think that’s my favorite sentence starter.

  2. Charlie says:

    ‘Oftentimes’ hits me in the face every time I hear it, which is often. (Or should I say ‘oftentimes’?) Isn’t often referring to frequent times? What does adding ‘times’ do for the message?

  3. My favorite eggcorn was in a newspaper ad four used bedroom furniture. The seller described the pieces and said the set came with a matching “Chester Drawer.”

    1. Tricia says:

      That could’ve been myself as a child. My grandfather’s name was Chester, and my father called him by his given name. One result was that we kids thought it was actually “Chester drawers” until I don’t know what age, even though my mother pronounced it correctly.

  4. FoxBill Harding says:

    “Yaknow” you’re right to use it in writing for it’s use in speech is endless . . . everywhere.

  5. john beniston says:

    It’s not rocket appliances folks. (thanks to “the triler park boys”)
    When I nod my ‘ead you ‘it it” (British mechanic to his apprentice)
    It has a royce rolls engine it doe 9 kilos to the mile.(me as a small boy about 3 years ago)

  6. My in-laws all talk in eggcorns, such as “fashlight”. Yes, they are about as redneck as you can get. I’m not too far away myself, admittedly. lol

  7. AutoCrit says:

    These are all hilarious so far, hahaha. Keep them coming, folks! 🙂

  8. Kitty says:

    My favorite is “expresso.”

  9. Anastasia says:

    That MC Hammer song from back in the day…I always thought he was singing “Do the jit. Do the jit to quit.” As a kid, I thought “the jit” was a kind of dance move, and possibly, you did this move when you wanted to quit something like a bad habit… smoking maybe? I only learned he was singing “too legit” much, much later. But, who understands those rap guys anyway. 😉

  10. I say misunderestimate all the time, and I will until Mr. Webster et al knuckle under.

    A friend used to refer to the hand-held collapsible rain shield she carried as her underbrella. Another is always going to ‘nip it in the butt’ which, well, don’t let me stop you.

  11. Courage says:

    I think I’m in love with eggcorns. They’re so frealing hilarious.

  12. Terry says:

    I’ve heard this from two different sources yesterday. Samonella instead of Salmonella. And the one that bothers me the most is when someone comes into a veterinarian’s office with a dog or cat and says its name is Khaleesi. That makes me want to put down my head from laughing. There is a virus that causes very serious, painful, and icky ulcers in feline mouths and throats. It is spelled c-a-l-i-s-i (a.k.a Calicivirus), but pronounced the same way. Except for the good laugh that name gives us in a vet clinic, I really wish writers would just check before they assume they’ve made up a new, exotic name.

  13. Vivian Armstrong says:

    Love the above.

  14. Lee Carver says:

    “Unforgiveness” is not a word. Ought to be, IMO.
    Once had a friend who said, “It’s just a fig leaf of my imagination.”
    Anyone fall off a clift recently? Or hoover over something?
    We could go on all day with this.

  15. Doreen Knight says:

    A gypsy apparently once recommended to one of my husband’s relatives “eggjug oil” for what ailed her. (This was of course a long time ago.)
    “Eggjug oil?”
    “Yers. You gets a eggjug and renders it down for the oil.”
    “Yer know. Little spiny bugger.”

    I submit our eggjug for your eggcorn.

  16. John DeHart says:

    My elderly neighbor used to gripe to me about how badly his “prostrate” was swollen. If he would’ve ever taken his wireless headphones off he might’ve heard me correcting him, but Ernie loved hockey…and his monologues. Good ‘ol Ernie.

  17. Adrian Richardson says:

    In the UK, notably London, a sherbert is beer, as in “Do you fancy a sherbert?” I assume its cockney rhyming slang, maybe from sherbert dab but cant see how works. Anyone?

  18. Adrian Richardson (new comment) says:

    In a song (Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts) by Bob Dylan, many of my friends argued that he “took a cabbage into town” and wondered why. Later it turned out that it was a carriage.

  19. Michael Lunsford says:

    In the night
    From a light
    From a bulb

  20. Amanda Wilson says:

    Heard a contestant on a reality TV show refer to her ears as earballs. My husband and I still joke about it. 🙂

  21. Cheryl Wheelright says:

    “Feelers,” as in, “What they said about me really hurt my feelers.”

    Love all these eggcorns! So much fun shining a “fashlight” on them! Hilarious!

  22. TimHobson says:

    I understand how “already” inevitably led to “alright” but that still doesn’t make it a word!

  23. Joan Leacott says:

    My favourite is carrion luggage. Talk about dirty laundry!

  24. Shari says:

    Did you hear that the ambliance comes in medical emergencies… Or that chotlick is a favorite sweet (according to Pamela)?

  25. moe moe says:

    i got one you have never heard i guarantee. i grew up in Rhode Island and when i wanted to talk with the adults about the weather, i thought i was so sophisticated adding my 2 cents about how cold it was going to be considering the “windshield factor.” i didn’t realize how dumb i sounded until i was about 20… lol

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