These Common Words Are Still Being Misused In 2020

These Common Words Are Still Being Misused In 2020

Yesterday’s virtual Emmys saw the latest and greatest of Hollywood’s small screen go for gold and win big. However, the 2020 Emmys also ignited plenty of social media chatter – particularly around what some thought was The Post’s misuse of the word “upset” when describing Zendaya’s surprising Euphoria win. 

The Post’s tweet, captioned ‘Biggest upset: Zendaya wins Emmys 2020 over Jennifer Aniston, Laura Linney,’ quickly attracted thousands of responses with hoards of fans wondering what there was to be “upset” about?

It didn’t take long for other Twitter users to point out that the word “upset” can also mean ‘an unexpected result or situation’. But the whole thing got us wondering – what other words are commonly misused, or misunderstood in 2020? 


Misused Words 2020The word literally has become so commonplace in 2020 chat that it’s true meaning has somewhat slipped between the cracks. According to Fluentu, the word means “actually, exactly, without exaggeration,” for example – there are literally millions of stars in the sky, because there are millions of stars in the sky. 

However, it’s commonly used to mean “figuratively” or “very”, Fluentu states. “The word is often used for emphasis and as an exaggeration, as in ‘I’m literally dying of laughter.’”

‘Effect vs. Affect’

Another common mistake folks might be making in 2020 is mixing up the words effect and affect – which have two different meanings. states that affect means “to act on; produce an effect or change” e.g. the cold weather affected the crops.

Effect, on the other hand, is most commonly used as a noun and means “result” or “consequence” e.g. his sunburn was an effect of exposure to the sun. 

‘Spirit Animal’

The Atlantic reports that in the past decade, the term spirit animal has become a device to describe “the person or thing you appreciate by claiming it as your own.” These days, anything can be your ‘spirit animal’ – Elaine from Seinfeld, chicken nuggets, Grumpy Cat – whatever you think encompasses you. 

However, The Atlantic points out that “the concept of the spirit animal comes, most directly, from Native American spirituality.” The misuse of the word has sparked claims of cultural appropriation, and is considered racially offensive to many.


Misused Words 2020Isn’t it ironic, don’t ya think? Alanis Morissette really did a number on us with her 1996 banger. According to, the word ironic has been so misused, it now commonly refers to something being “coincidental” rather than actually ironic.

Huffington Post reports that there are multiple definitions of irony, including verbal irony AKA sarcasm, dramatic irony, situational irony, and more. It adds another level of confusion to the whole thing but the first step is awareness, right? 

The more you know.


  • The thing I am always ambivalent about is that if a word is misused enough, than that misuse becomes appropriate usage. So you can try and nip these things in the bud early on if you want, but are we just holding back regular language development, or seeking to make things clearer?
    Literally is a good example. I very rarely see people getting confused by its usage, because everyone understands it is used to emphasise. But it does bug me to use a word that is almost the opposite of what it is meant for.
    Oh well, thats just English I suppose.

  • Like, I imagine, a lot of people, I vacillate between “NOOO! THAT’S NOT WHAT THAT WORD MEANS!” and “Language is a fluid thing, a social construct, and that word can now mean something else”
    e.g. I know that “decimate” commonly means “almost annihilated” rather than “reduced by 10%” and won’t bother arguing it, but I’d never use it that way!

    • I think you need to qualify the context in which “looser” is used. Yes, too many people use it to mean “the person who did not win”, but it DOES also have the legitimate meaning of “more loose” e.g. “Now that I’ve lost some weight, my pants are looser than they were last month”.

  • C’mon! “it’s true meaning” is just wrong! There’s no excuse for redundant apostrophes … the rules are simple if you can be bothered.
    And really? “hoards of fans” is ridiculous – the word is “hordes” when you mean many.
    Clear indication of the Dunning-Kruger Effect. Look it up.

  • I can’t believe you omitted or overlooked… the word ‘like’….

    like, everyone uses the word like, to describe, like… everything… I’m like, so ‘over’ the misuse and ‘over’ use of, like, a word, that like, literally, drives me like… y’know… like, crazy!!!

    It seems like…. the Americans like, cannot like, construct… like, a single sentence… that, like, doesn’t have the word ‘like’, as like… every second or like, every like, 3rd word… like…

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