English is a living language, which means it’s continually growing and adapting to reflect vernacular usage.
Even words that don’t exist in English (officially) can find their way into casual conversation.
It doesn’t really matter if we insist they’re “not real words.”
What makes a word real, anyway, if not the fact that real people are using them?
Fake words have a way of catching on.
And sometimes, there’s a good reason for that.
Words That Don’t Exist
Some commonly used words that don’t exist in “proper” modern English may eventually fade from use — words like irregardless, for example.
That said, we don’t really see them disappearing anytime soon. And we don’t see a point in shaming or insulting those who use them.
- Aks / Ax — The “ks” to “sk” consonant reversal isn’t a new thing with English words. But for most English speakers, the word “ask” has the upper hand—for now.
- Hisself — Listed as “chiefly dialectical,” this is a less-accepted form of the word “himself.” The first known use was in the 12th century.
- Refudiate — Made famous by Sarah Palin, refudiate is a hybrid of the words “refute” (or “refuse”) and “repudiate.” The generally accepted meaning is “to reject.”
- Runner-ups — The correct form is runners-up. In compound words like this, the plural “s” goes after the main word rather than the last one.
- Unhabitable — Means uninhabitable. But since the most-accepted antonym is habitable (rather than inhabitable), unhabitable actually makes more sense.
- Overwhelmed — Who knew overwhelmed is essentially the overkill version of the word “whelmed”? That said, the word overwhelmed is used far more often.
- Reiterate — The word “iterate” implies the same; reiterate is like re-repeat. That said, you probably see and hear the word “reiterate” more often than “iterate.”
- Expresso — Merriam-Webster lists it as a “less common variant” of espresso. But, given how the latter is made, “expresso” actually makes sense.
- Misunderestimated — Listed in the political dictionary as a malapropism invented by former president George W. Bush, the word means “to underestimate by mistake.” Generally, though, underestimating someone is always a mistake.
- Brung (and Brang) — The past tense and part participle form of bring are both brought—not brang and brung, both listed as substandard or “chiefly dialectical.”
- Firstly — along with secondly, thirdly, and so on, the -ly ending is unnecessary and implied by “first” when it’s used as an adverb.
- Inflammable — A derivative of the word “inflame,” inflammable is a confusing synonym for flammable and one we really don’t need to keep.
- Unthaw — For some reason, this word is used (in both American and British English) to mean the same as “thaw.”
- Nonplussed — It means something like “perplexed” or “unimpressed.” While it started as made-up word, it’s become more or less accepted as a real one.
- Alot — This is the incorrect joining of the words “a” and “lot,” which should always remain separate (“a lot”) — as in the opposite of “a little.”
- Participator — Someone suggested this word as an alternative to the correct word, “participant.” Oddly enough, participator is listed as one of participant’s synonyms.
- Preventative — This is a slightly longer version of the word, “preventive,” and has become so widely-accepted, you’ll see and hear it used everywhere.
- Unequivocably — Listed as “nonstandard,” this is a less-common alternative to unequivocally, meaning “unquestionably” or “leaving no doubt.”
- Interpretate — An archaic form of the word interpret, this word essentially means the same: to explain, understand, or artistically express the meaning of something.
- Mischievious — Not listed as a legit term in any dictionary, this word with its extra “i” (for “incorrect”) is still heard often enough to make it worth mentioning here.
- Expecially — Often heard from people who find it more familiar or easier to pronounce, even when they know the correct spelling is “especially.”
- Prolly — You’ll hear this used in British English as a slang abbreviation for “probably.”
- Ain’t — This slang form of “am not,” “are not,” and “is not” has never made it to formal English status, but that doesn’t stop people from using it, either in informal speech or with phrases like, “Say it ain’t so,” and “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”
- Thusly — means “thus” or “in this manner” and doesn’t actually need the -ly at the end. That said, Shakespeare used it, and he’s not alone. Who are we to judge?
5 Words That Don’t Exist But Should
Some words that aren’t words are way too good to write off as mistakes. We’ll offer a brief sampling, but you can probably think of more.
- Fauxmotion (fo-mo’-shun) — a fake promotion that results in greater responsibility without an increase in income (because capitalism).
- Phonesia (fo nee’ zhuh) — The annoying but relatable affliction from dialling a phone number and then forgetting whom you were calling just as they answer. Sometimes, wouldn’t you just rather forget you have a phone?
- Hiberdating (hy’-brr-day-ting) — when someone ignores their friends to focus entirely on their new boo. It’s all cozy for the new couple but everyone else gets left out in the cold.
- Textpectation (tex-spect-tay-shun) — the anticipation felt when you’re waiting for a response to a text (or texts) you’ve sent. Somehow this word conveys the worry, dread, self-doubt and general torture that goes along with the waiting game.
- Bolitics (ball-it-ticks) — the time-honored practice of talking utter bollocks about politics and acting as if you know all there is to know about it. It’s a fun word.
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Real Words that Sound Fake
- Administrate — While the word “administer” is typically used to provide or dispense, though it can also mean “to manage or supervise”), administrate is a derivative of “administration” and refers specifically to managing or overseeing.
- Conversate — Another nonstandard variant, conversate, essentially means “converse” or have a conversation. While less common (and grating to some), conversate has been part of the English language for over 200 years.
- Irregardless — This one’s been around for well over 200 years. It means the same as “regardless,” and Merriam-Webster lists it as a “nonstandard” but real word.
- Supposably is a less-used relative of supposedly, but they’re both considered real words with different meanings. Supposably means “conceivable” or “capable of being supposed,” which supposedly is generally synonymous with “allegedly.”
- Themself –This word has actually been around for centuries. In the late 1300s, it was the default. It’s now making a comeback as a gender-neutral singular alternative for themselves, himself, or herself.
- Undoubtably — Though often used interchangeably with undoubtedly, the meaning of this word is slightly different. Undoubtedly means literally “without a doubt,” while undoubtably stems from “undoubtable” and means “cannot be doubted,” though it’s often used to back up an opinion rather than a fact.
Now you know plenty of words that perhaps, according to some experts, don’t “exist” in modern English but that many English speakers use. Some have been around for centuries, while others are newer additions.
Can you think of any words we missed or that you’d like to see added to the dictionary?