Time to confess: tell us about a time when you used a word whose meaning you didn’t actually know (or were very wrong about, in retrospect).
Infamous. I used that word wrongly for years. I grouped the famous-infamous combo with the valuable-invaluable combo, with –in meaning “more so” with a positive connotation. Never did it occur to me that “infamous” worked in the same way as “insurmountable” or “insignificant” or “insufficient.” So I’d foolishly describe Roger Federer as an “infamous” tennis player and T.S Elliot as an “infamous” poet. Sometimes I’d get it right by luck: “Hitler was an infamous leader.” Anyway, my teachers never called me out on it. I don’t know if they thought it was cute or if they just skimmed my papers, but silly little me “infamously” kept using “infamous” incorrectly until fucking SOPHOMORE YEAR OF HIGH SCHOOL. I still remember the shock and humiliation that dawned on me like a thunder-cloud when I saw my teacher’s comment on my midterm paper: “That’s not what infamous means!! Infamous means notorious. Infamous is BAD!!” In that moment I felt like my whole fucking life had been a lie. Okay, slightly over-dramatic, but you have to understand: writing was (is) the only thing that I’ve ever considered myself decent at, and to be told that I’d been misusing such a simple word for fifteen years almost killed me. I kid you not. Even now, four years later, that word still gives me the jitters. I use notorious in its place just to avoid the bad memories.
So that’s my confession. Another word I used wrongly is “appraisal.” I took it to mean “worth praising” rather than “the act of assessing something.” Sigh, maybe I should reconsider being a journalist after all.