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There are many words that are often used in place of other words, that are not actually synonymous.

Examples:

  • Disinterested & Uninterested
  • Ask(ed) & Axe(d)
  • Literally & Figuratively*

Sometimes this is because the words are similar; sometimes it's born out of hyperbole or irony (e.g., good and bad). Sometimes there are totally obscure reasons this happens. Regardless, it is common enough that I would expect it to have a term. Unfortunately trying to google for such a term, because of the way the keywords are used, returns interminable** results with nothing pertinent within a reasonable depth.

For the record, if an appropriate term does not already exist, I'd like to coin the term pseudosynonym.

*Yes, I know technically this is resolved by adding the informal definition to the dictionary.

**Yes, I see what I did there, no it was not intentional.

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    People aren't confusing axe and ask; aks is a variant of ask with a long history going back to Old English acsian. Likewise the use of literally as an intensifier isn't a confusion, it's an alternative meaning. A confusion is where you could give people 2 words and the dictionary definitions (or a usage guide) and they'd go "ah, I actually meant the other one" rather than saying "Nope, I know what I want". This is at least 66% rant.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Apr 24 at 16:43
  • @StuartF To be fair, 'literally' as an intensifier is a legitimate meaning of the term (that is how a number of people use it and understand it consistently), but it's use as such is derived from a solecism, from mistaking an intentional exceptional but non-figurative meaning for a more intense situation. Which is to say the figurative meaning is acceptable in some situations, but an error in others.
    – Mitch
    Commented Apr 25 at 17:04

1 Answer 1

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These words can be considered false cognates:

They are called false cognates because they sound or are written so similarly that they are often confused.

That page even lists disinterested/uninterested and literally/figuratively.


(Note that while the term typically refers to two words in different languages, it is also used with two words within the same language.)

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  • This is perfect! I was even considering adding the foreign language concept to my example, but thought it was already complicated enough. Thank you!
    – trex005
    Commented Nov 2, 2016 at 4:04

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