If it looks like there's a negative at the beginning of this word, it's because etymologically speaking there is- it's from Latin
non plus, "no more, no further". Still, there is no word
plussed, and that can get confusing.
Laudrup appeared almost equally
nonplussed to learn the officials were not required to make themselves available to the media to offer some sort of explanation.
—The Guardian March 11, 2013
It may look like the
in- at the start of this word would be the same as the one at the start of words like
inadequate. Although that may be a good way to remember it, the first letters of this word are not a negative. The word comes from Latin
inchoare which meant "to begin." Inchoate things are often just beginning.
Like all true grass roots movements, the TPM is
inchoate, unfocused, and disorganized.
—Forbes July 1, 2014
There are shades of meaning between
panache that are often confused.
Cachet is more about prestige and
panache is more about style. Another way to put it is the fact that you are doing something at all, say,High Tea at Buckingham Palace, can have a lot of
cachet in your social circle, but how you do something, like the genteel way you sip your tea can have a lot of
Cachet — isn’t that like panache, but sitting down?
Each one he answered swiftly, with a practiced grace and
panache, deploying disarming tones and the most appropriate facial expressions.
—New York Times May 24, 2014
It was possible to
defatigare " to tire out", in Latin, but only the negative version, prefixed with
in- survived the journey into English ( it came via French).
indefatigable is a word you almost have to say quickly, and if you get through all those syllables, it's almost as if you've proven the definition- it takes "unflagging vitality" to reach the end.
They were also, along with their friend, James Baldwin, forceful members of the civil-rights movement—
indefatigable because they never lost the ability to dream.
—The New Yorker Jun 13, 2014
Another etymologically negative word without a positive counterpart in Modern English, this word comes from Latin
in "not" and
delebilis "able to be destroyed".
Theirs is a land that considers itself a multicultural success story, but it is one tainted by an
indelible stain of bigotry.
—BBC Jul 7, 2014
canny is rare but not unknown as a word that means "cunning" or "sly". The only problem is that that's not the meaning of
canny contained in
Canny used to mean " knowing and careful" and therefore
uncanny meant "mischievous" and came to refer to supernatural spirits who toyed with mortals. Comic book fans have a huge head start with this word, having grown up with the "Uncanny X-Men" who all have supernatural powers.
LaBeouf has an
uncanny ability to steer the story back to him, even when the subject is decidedly not him.
—Los Angeles Times June 27, 2014
This word is one where the positive version of it did exist, but has fallen out of use.
Abash meant "perplex, embarrass, lose one's composure" in the late 14th and early 15th centuries, so
unabashed means "not embarrassed".
He is anxious that his own trading fame doesn't overshadow the sport but is
unabashed about his passion.
—Reuters July 3, 2014
Like the famous pair
inflammable, the pair
deboned look like they should be opposites, but in fact have come to mean the same thing.
boned a chicken breast, cut it into small pieces, battered and fried the bits, and served them with a sauce.
—Slate Dec 28, 2012
Although it can get confusing, the
il- in this word is not the
il- in such words as
illegitimate. This word comes from a Latin word
illustrus which came to mean "famous", very close to what the English word now means.
As a member of one of Hungary’s most
illustrious families, Karolyi grew up on a large estate, surrounded by acres of trees and lush fields.
—Washington Times July 5, 2014
bourgeoisie are confusing partly because of the gap between the dictionary definitions of the words and how the words are used. An adjective describing something belong to the middle class or a noun designating that class shouldn't by themselves be judgmental words, but they are nearly always used in a disparaging way. The sample sentence for
bourgeoisie is a good example of the tone that accompanies these words.
To do so would be to overstep the bounds, and to display a
bourgeois lack of cool.
Somehow “kale” has become a four-letter word, like “tofu” was before it, symbolising the dietary quirks of a clueless, effete
—The Guardian July 8, 2014
This word is confusing because it sounds like it's potentially related to words like
dilate or even
depilatory. It's not related to either of those words, but luckily there are ways to remember what
dilatory actually means—the word almost sounds like
dilly dally , both of which relate to the word's definition.
Some of the bloat has to do with the
dilatory antics of the replacement referees, but that's not the lone cause.
—Slate Sep 12, 2012
This word looks and sounds like
marionette, the stringed puppet, which is a pitfall to avoid, because it can lead you to believe that
martinet means the exact opposite of what it actually means. A
martinet has some power and no one is pulling their strings.
martinet manager it can only be his way.
—The Guardian (May 19, 2014)
This is confusing because it's an obscure word for the common, and sometimes it's hard to keep straight whether the very upper crust or the common is being discussed.
Hoi Polloi literally means "the many" with
polloi being the plural of the well-known Greek prefix
Hobnob not with the
hoi polloi but rather the hoity-toity in the new unscripted series "Ladies of London."
—Los Angeles Times May 30, 2014