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5 Words That Don't Mean How They Sound

Language is a tricky beast, full of words that promise one thing and deliver another, like an enticing sounding peanut butter, banana, barrel-aged porter that actually tastes like shit. 

Today, we're diving into the world of words that don’t mean how they sound. If onomatopoeias are words that sound like their meanings—thump, huff, woosh—these do the opposite.  

These linguistic chameleons often catch us off guard, leading to embarrassing misunderstandings and, sometimes, outright hilarity. Not really, but I had to think of some sort of consequence. 

Here are five words that don’t mean what you might think they do.

1. Nonplussed

Imagine you're at a party, trying to impress a group of intellectuals with your extensive vocabulary. 

You confidently describe someone as "nonplussed," thinking you're saying they’re unbothered or unimpressed. In reality, you’ve just said they’re bewildered or unsure how to respond, triggering snickers from the erudite crowd who no longer want to be your best friend. 

Nonplussed has tripped up many a would-be wordsmith. Next time you use it—which I doubt you ever will—picture someone standing in the middle of a room with a look of utter confusion—because that’s what it really means.

2. Enervate

You’ve just completed an intense workout, and you tell your gym buddy you’re feeling enervated, expecting them to nod in agreement with your newfound energy. 

Instead, they look at you with concern (this assumes they’re among the two percent of the population that know the meaning of enervate). Why? Because enervate doesn’t mean to energize; it means to weaken or drain of energy. 

You dope.

It’s what happens when you binge-watch an entire season of a show in one sitting—not the aftermath of a high-intensity interval training session.

3. Bemused

Bemused doesn’t mean amused. 

Like its buddy, nonplussed, bemused means confused or puzzled. 

It’s the face you make when you realize you’ve been saying “for all intensive purposes” instead of “for all intents and purposes” or at church when you say, “Pleased to meet you,” instead of “Peace be with you.” Yes, I’ve been to church. 

Bemused is not the chuckle you share with a friend; it’s the furrowed brow of someone trying to understand why their printer only malfunctions during a deadline crunch.

4. Noisome

You might think that your spouse, partner, or one-night-stand’s loud snoring is noisome. 

Actually, noisome refers to something unpleasant or harmful, especially in terms of smell. Think of a trash bin that hasn’t been emptied in weeks, or that mysterious odor coming from the back of your fridge. Noisome is the olfactory equivalent of a horror movie—it’s what makes you recoil in disgust, not cover your ears.

Come to think of it, if the breath of the snore is putrid then I guess you can call it noisome. 

5. Peruse

Many people think to peruse means to skim through something quickly, like glancing over a magazine in a waiting room. 


To peruse actually means to read or examine something thoroughly.

The next time you’re in a bookstore, if you can find one that’s still standing, and you tell the owner you plan to peruse the self-help section, prepare for a very long night and to be the world’s leading expert on self-improvement. 

All of this said, you really don’t have to worry about using these words incorrectly. No one’s going to call you on it, because they don’t know what they mean either. 

Sometimes I even forget.

About the Author, David Telisman

I am a Writer and Content Creator, and I work with businesses to inspire their customers to buy from them. I believe that my clients deserve to feel proud of how their content marketing looks and what it says, and I deliver by providing expert copywriting and marketing solutions.

Sharing my passion through words is my craft, and I could add value by helping you voice yours. Contact me here, at or 

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