Words which might be better used


Or maybe better words which might be used…

Is there any real reason for anyone to believe that someone being accused of something can refute it just by saying “that’s not true” or other WTTE?

I would say that in that case they are merely denying it. Refuting requires some sort of evidence at least, doesn’t it? I mean, it used to mean “to prove to be an error” and you do need to show some evidence for a statement to prove anything.


When I first noticed people saying “I refute that” some decades ago I used to pause, and say “Go on then.” It’s become firmly embedded since, so I’m afraid it’s just another formerly useful word that has now changed (or rather lost) its meaning and I’ve given up.


I suppose you’re right; it just sounds very strange to me when it is used as some sort of defence against a corporate manslaughter charge, for instance. “Mr x refuted the suggestion that his department had not acted to prevent the tragedy” leaves me asking “How did he do that? What evidence did he produce? How did he prove the negative?”


They mix it up with repudiate, I imagine. Imply and infer get confused as well.


It seems to be thought of as a sort of final word on the subject, but you might be right; except I don’t think they can really mean repudiate, when they say it in reply to a direct accusation.

People hadn’t ought to be allowed to use long words they haven’t looked up first!


Oh, incontroversially, Fanta. The importance of that cannot be underestimated.


'S incontrovertible, innit.


Well, the hard-top version is normally a better bet…


I had a mini with a lid, once.


In Britain? Oh well, it’s good exercise :frog:


My least favourite things at the moment are grammatical. Here’s one:

“He may still be alive” used to mean that you didn’t know whether or not the person was dead. So you could say “He may still be alive. I hope so.” But you could not say “He may still be alive if they had operated sooner.” That sort of counterfactual, where you already know he’s dead, went “He might still be alive if they had operated sooner.”

“May” has replaced “might” completely, and it gives my brain a jerk every time I hear it. It’s so universal now that a Radio 4 discussion programme about language peeves couldn’t even work out what the problem was when a listener tweeted about using “may” where it should be “might”.

I can see political jokes there, but I won’t.


Oh I do so agree! The first time that came to my attention, it was about a cricketer who had been killed by a fast ball to the head; the newsreader on R4 said “He was not wearing a safety helmet, which may have saved his life.” Most of the people I mentioned it to had no idea what was wrong with that.

Sometimes saying that “could” and “can” are alternative words to look at in the same way works; also “would” and “will”.

Another one struck me today: to sanction. “We will sanction that” used to mean “We’ll allow it.” http://www.dictionary.com/browse/sanction meaning 8 simply isn’t there in the 1998 Collins.


Losing that use of “sanction” is odd. I don’t know how it arose. I suppose it’s because of “imposing sanctions”.

It would be extremely surprising to see something careening down the road, since careening is scraping a ship’s bottom. But it seems people do.

If that meaning of “careen” hasn’t yet made it into the dictionary with an explanation that it was originally a confusion with “career” I expect it will soon.


Have just noticed your title: “Words which…”.

Many people would now put “Words that…”. They would even write “People that live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.” I cannot bear being referred to as “that” - it feels dehumanising.

I do know where this one came from. In the early 90’s, Microsoft Word’s grammar checker started trying to replace my correct-in-British-English “who” and “which” with “that”, until I turned it off. I discovered that there is a US grammatical rule that you only use “who” and “which” in limited cases, always involving a comma, for instance to mark out a distinct group from the rest of the population, as in “People with red hair, who burn more easily than those with other hair colour, should take care in strong sunlight.” Otherwise you use “that”. Another lost cause, given the power of Microsoft, but being called “that” will never stop sounding rude to me.


I don’t know if this one is more peculiar to North America, but the double ‘would’ has now become ingrained, so I might as well stop letting it grate on me. Instead of ‘if you had told me, I would have done something about it’, they say, ‘if you would have told me, I would have done something about it.’

Afterthought: I suppose the thread is about words usage and not grammar, but I thought I’d mention this one because, whenever I have in the past, for the most part people don’t react much. I never get a ‘ooh, yes, that’s really annoying!’ I don’t think a lot of people notice it.


In fact, Janie, the double ‘would’ makes the red mist descend for me whereas the ‘that instead of who’ variant bothers me not a jot. It was FTC that brought that one up, so I expect I am upsetting them ;- ) May and might - can’t people hear how daft it is? [Evidently not, you doofus. Ed]

And yes, the double ‘would’ is particularly prevalent the other side of the pond, which might be why I hate it so much. Not that I am unduly prejudiced against Americans in general, just some of the ones I worked with…


This is a common way for speakers of Germanic languages to express themselves, translating from their mother tongue. So perhaps it came into North American English that way.

I used to hear it all the time from Flemish Belgians, and Dutch and German colleagues. Sometimes they would mistranslate “wenn” - “if” in German - and you’d get “When you would have told me…”


" … off of".

That’s it.

I need a lie down now.


I accept that language develops - no Académie Francaise holding back the tide for me - so it doesn’t make me cross.

But my brain is so well-trained in some things that it’s like tripping over a kerbstone to hear the new version. When I hear “may” I expect the outcome to be open. It’s a jolt to have it slammed shut. (Fanta’s example is a major logical car-crash.)

And being called “that” when my brain knows I’m not an inanimate object causes an emotional reaction that I have to suppress by conscious action (split infinitive just avoided for those of you who care, though the “rule” is just a contrived analogy with Latin which has single-word infinitives). I put up with it and don’t tell people off.

It is a pity though when a useful word like “refute” loses its meaning.


Interesting, because they are two different concepts, aren’t they? If you had told me (but you didn’t, you wally, that is a fact) then I would have done something about it (oh yeah? would you really? go on, prove it, bet you wouldn’t). One is something that did happen and the other is something someone is claiming would have happened.

It’s quite clear in French, Italian and Spanish. Si tu me l’avais dit, j’aurais fait quelque chose.