Should writers avoid certain words? I’m not talking about words that might be considered in poor taste or be offensive to some people. All writers must make that determination for themselves based on their audience and the type of writing they have undertaken.
I’m talking about those words that hold different meanings for different people. In other words, over time, more and more people may begin using certain words to mean something different from the traditional meaning. Hopefully is a good example. The traditional meaning of hopefully is “in a hopeful manner” but for years people have used it to mean “it is to be hoped,” as in “Hopefully, I will win the lottery this week.” I think the newer meaning is here to stay.
Today I posted an entry in my blog titled “Carolynn’s Clues” that appears each month on the We Write Romance website in which I refer to recent discussions on the web about words that are changing to the extent that some authorities advise writers to avoid them altogether. Why? Because some readers may become furious with you if your meaning for the word doesn’t coincide with their meaning. The Writing Resource blog lists nine words that fall in this category, words that include intrigue, enormity, and nonplussed.
I had no idea the meaning of nonplussed is changing. Who would have thought that some people use the word to mean “not worried” or “unconcerned”? Not me.
I’ve decided I should make my own list of words to avoid or at the very least remember that people may attribute a meaning to certain words that is different from my perceived meaning. I’m not particularly happy about the way some of those meanings are changing, but I know that language changes, and I figure I’d better change with it or get left behind.