- Bombast. Maybe it’s because it has that word bomb in it, but bombast is often misused to describe harsh, exaggerated, or over-the-top rhetoric. Actually, it refers to speech that’s pompous or pretentious. Originally, bombast was a name for the cotton padding used in clothes. So when you hear a speech with lots of padding or filler—that’s bombastic. Or, (ahem) it could describe writing that has the same qualities.
- Hypocrite. We all know that a hypocrite is someone who says one thing and does another. Right? Well, actually, no. The word derives from the Greek word for a stage actor—someone who’s pretending to be someone else. So, if you‘re not living up to your own standards—that just means you’re human. If you’re pretending to do so—then yes, you’re a hypocrite.
- Diffident. This word is sometimes used as a synonym for arrogant or aloof. Actually, it describes someone who is timid or shy (dif-fident—the opposite of con-fident).
- Stereotype.When we hear this word, we automatically think of ethnic or racial stereotypes. But it originated in the printing trade, referring to a plate of type made of cast metal—so the printed image it produced was always the same (from Greek stereos, or solid, and type—meaning, well, type).
- Hackneyed. Book reviewers love to skewer hackneyed—meaning trite or stale—prose. And we've all heard the shortened version: hack politicians, and so forth. But the original definition is much more noble. Hackney refers to a breed of high-stepping English horses that were once used to draw carriages. Their use in such a common activity eventually led to the derogatory connotation.
So, impress your friends. Use these words; just use them right. Please.