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Not all the words we use are real

In the study of language, one must be aware that some words are used that don’t even exist. Others are redundant, include superfluous letters or even contradict themselves.

How often have you heard a person say "irregardless?"

"Regardless" means "nonetheless or nevertheless, despite the present circumstances." The negative is already obvious, so the prefix "ir-" is not necessary. Similarly, "iterate" means to repeat; reiterate actually means to re-repeat.

An example probably each of us has used is "overwhelmed." Did you know that "whelmed" refers to being completely overcome, submerged or buried" I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone say “whelmed,” but I can see that overwhelmed is more than needed.

How often do you "unthaw" your dinner? Literally that means you freeze it. You need only to thaw the food, unless you use this word as an adjective: he put the unthawed vegetables into the microwave to cook.

If you have only heard about that strong black coffee created by forcing steam through the beans, you might order some expresso in order to fit in and feel cool. If you pronounce it carefully enough that someone hears the “x,” you might get a laugh. Check the menu, and get an "espresso" next time.

Two commonly used non-words are “supposably" or "undoubtably." These words do not exist; their users probably meant to say "supposedly" or "undoubtedly."

The word "participator" is legitimate and in the dictionary, but "participant" would be a bit better and more clear.

And why would someone say non-defunct? Why not just say alive?

If any of these explanations leave you annoyed or unfulfilled, you can say you are frustrated or flustered. Just don’t say "flustrated;" there is no such word.

There is also nothing like vice-a-versa. Instead, you need to use "vice versa."

And to end on a sweet note, would you like some sherbert? No, there is no such thing; however, sherbet would be a great treat. Enjoy!

— Sandi Ekberg taught high school English in Medford for 30 years, with a special interest in vocabulary, grammar and usage. If you have grammar questions you would like answered, email her at ifixgrammar@charter.net