Many people learning English claim that our language is illogical. They’ll usually point the finger at spelling, saying that the laws are so irregular that they are not of much use.
You might agree with them—somewhat. But in general, you’ve grown up spelling most words, so it’s not that big of a deal. But now—with the SAT vocab monster bearing down on you—you have all these words to learn. What’s most irritating, though, isn’t the spelling per se, but the fact that many words look awfully similar. In fact, you often think one word means something, when you are actually thinking of another word—one that looks eerily similar.
So, in honor of such galling words, I’ve created a Vocab Friday that is bound to stump you. That is, at least one of the words below doesn’t actually mean what you thought it did.
Imprudent vs. Impudent
The first one is the opposite of “prudent”, which means careful when planning some future course of action. Imprudent is the opposite of prudent. Go on a six-hour hike without any water—imprudent.
Somebody who is impudent, on the other hand, is cheeky. Let’s say somebody in your class keeps making fun of the teacher to his or her face. I’d say that is pretty impudent, because a teacher is a person worthy of respect (though you may not always feel that way).
Formidable vs. Formative
Oh, the first three years of life, when so much of who we become is determined. Formative years or formidable years? Well, unless those years were really intimidating, you probably want to use “formative”, which means having a lasting influence on.
Formidable, on the other hand, means anything that fills you with fear and trepidation, because it so mighty and intimidating. The SAT, 1:1 against Lebron James, hiking Mt. Everest—all are formidable tasks.
Devious vs. Deviant
Want a word that can describe either somebody who is underhanded and unethical, or a road full of twists and turns? Well then, devious is the perfect word for you.
But what exactly is a deviant? Anybody who engages in behavior that society deems immoral is a deviant. Justin Bieber—love him or loathe him—has become quite a deviant, as his latest exploits in Florida suggest.
So be careful not to mix up “devious” with “deviant” or you may offend someone.
Conscientious vs. Conscious vs. Unconscionable vs. Unconscious
Have a strong sense of morality and ethics, right and wrong? Well, then you are conscientious. For instance, somebody who disagrees with war on moral grounds is called a conscientious objector.
To be conscious or have consciousness is to be awake or alert (nobody is going to give you the Nobel Peace prize for consciousness).
If something is totally and utterly unacceptable—a thing you would never do—then that behavior is unconscionable. Drag racing and urinating in public come to mind (okay, sorry, I’ll lay off the Bieb).
Unconscious is the opposite of conscious. Make sure that during the SAT, if nothing else, that you are not unconscious. Hopefully, you’ll get more than 600, which is pretty unconscionable for most.