The Most Dangerous Words in America

Rob Kyff on

Product warning labels can sometimes be hilarious: "Remove child before washing" on a pair of kids' overalls, "May cause drowsiness" on a package of sleeping pills, "This costume does not enable flight" on a Superman costume.

My all-time favorite is, alas, made up: "Not to be used as a flotation device" on a package of Life Savers candy.

Some words should come with warning labels, too. Here's my list of the most dangerous words in America:

--Nonplussed: This adjective means "perplexed, bewildered," e.g., "The candidate's withdrawal left her supporters nonplussed").

But many people are now using "nonplussed" to mean "indifferent, unfazed," e.g., "Despite the intensity of the blizzard, snow plow drivers were nonplussed."

Warning: Using "nonplussed" to mean "indifferent" may leave others nonplussed.

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--Moot: This adjective originally meant "debatable, not decided." But, perhaps because a mock debate of fictitious cases by law students is called a "moot court," "moot" acquired a second meaning: "of no practical importance, hypothetical."

So when a "moot point" could be either a point that's debatable or one that's irrelevant.

Warning: Use "moot" carefully or your meaning might be "moot" (in both senses of the word).

--Fulsome: Although "fulsome" once meant "copious, generous," it has also taken on a disparaging sense of "abundant to excess, overdone," e.g., "His unctuous flattery was fulsome."


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