I'm currently writing an article that includes two contexts of communication: effectiveness and competence. Incompetent people can misuse terminology all day and the ideas are effective and do technically work. However I'm looking for a word or term that has two or more meanings and the misuse of could lead to bodily harm or even death; this is to promote the idea of the aspect of competently communicating one's ideas.

What word if not used competently could end up leading to injury or death in a context that most people could understand with little-to-no explanation?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – tchrist
    Commented Apr 13, 2017 at 23:04

32 Answers 32


Does it have to be a single word?

Derek Bentley was convicted of the murder of a policeman in 1952 and hanged the following year. He and an accomplice, Christopher Craig, were burgling a warehouse and Craig was armed with a pistol. When the police cornered Bentley and Craig, Craig drew the gun. A policeman told Craig to give him the gun and Bentley allegedly responded, "Let him have it, Chris." Craig shot the policeman in the shoulder and later shot another policeman dead.

During the trial, the prosecution claimed that "Let him have it" meant "shoot him", whereas the defence claimed that, if Bentley had said those words at all, he meant "give the gun to him."

Bentley was subsequently posthumously pardoned in 1993 and his conviction quashed in 1998, because of a multitude of problems, not least Bentley's mental state, an apparently falsified confession and the trial judge failing to properly direct the jury.

  • 3
    Outstanding answer!
    – Stewart
    Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 14:03
  • The OP brought this case to my mind, too. Travesty of 'justice'. Bentley didn't even fire the gun. And how nice to be pardoned.
    – Tim
    Commented Apr 13, 2017 at 8:59
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    Just to clarify, was Bentley posthumously pardoned in 1993 and then had his conviction posthumously quashed in 1993? Or did they botch his hanging in 1953 so badly that he lived for another 45 years?
    – TylerH
    Commented Apr 13, 2017 at 14:03
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    Under the Felony Murder Rule, it's irrelevant. Bentley was committing a felony, so any deaths resulting from that act are considered murder. In the recent Oklahoma case where someone shot three burglars, their getaway driver (and apparently the leader of the gang) who was outside in her car has been charged with three counts of murder for the deaths of her accomplices. Commented Apr 13, 2017 at 17:27
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    I'm far behind on work though I'm trying to read through these. I haven't everything yet but wow, that is an example any native English speaker will get with little explanation and is likely what I'll accept. However to be fair I'm going to postpone that until I have the time to go through all the other answers. I'll up-vote it in the meantime, thank you for the excellent answer!
    – John
    Commented Apr 13, 2017 at 18:51

This may not be exactly what you are looking for, but might work in the context.


Many people see the "in" as a negative prefix, and believe anything marked inflammable is flame retardant. However, both flammable and inflammable have the same meaning:

...both mean "capable of being easily ignited and of burning quickly." This makes no sense to the Modern English speaker. In English, we think of in- as a prefix that means "not": inactive means "not active," inconclusive means "not conclusive," inconsiderate means "not considerate." Therefore, inflammable should mean "not flammable."

-Merriam Webster

Because of this, volatile or combustible materials are often labeled as "flammable" to avoid a potentially hazardous misinterpretation.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – tchrist
    Commented Apr 14, 2017 at 21:49

Here are some examples:

When replacing a water pump, one must be sure to get the timing right in order to avoid damaging the engine.

In this case 'the timing' could be misconstrued as the time of day, as opposed to the timing of the engine. This omission really can wreck an engine.

These snakes are not poisonous.

This is tangential to your purpose, but a precise statement using a word like 'poisonous', which people think is synonymous with venomous, could easily misinform a reader. [To be clear, being venomous is about your bite being toxic, being poisonous is about if you being bitten is toxic.]

Be sure to change the water in your fish tank bimonthly.

Poor fish, bimonthly means both twice a month and every other month. (biweekly has the same problem.)

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    The biweekly/monthly seems useful for an example of a misunderstanding about medical treatment.
    – user221615
    Commented Apr 11, 2017 at 22:58
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    There are also the hemi- and semi- prefixes, but most people don't use them nowadays due — probably — to lingual atrophy. Commented Apr 13, 2017 at 15:46
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    @m69 this is exactly the reason we have "forthnightly" Commented Apr 13, 2017 at 21:51
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    All venomous snakes are poisonous if you aren't cautious how you gut them.
    – Joshua
    Commented Apr 13, 2017 at 22:18
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    I like that. If it's poisonous bad things happen if you bite it, if venomous bad things happen if it bites you.
    – Vality
    Commented Apr 14, 2017 at 0:21

One word with good potential here is oversight which can mean both supervision and omission. Thus it is important to ensure oversight of the process can mean keep an eye on it or ignore it.

Another simple example: "ensure all alarms and warning lights are set off at the end of the shift".

Wikipedia has a list of such autoantonyms which could prove instructive.

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    I'm not convinced about this one. Sentence structure dictates that we say there was oversight (it was supervised or monitored) and there was *an* oversight (something was missed), so it should usually be clear from context.
    – flith
    Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 5:14
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    @flith it takes a bit of twisting and my example can probably be improved on. But the word itself variesw both meanings so the confusion is present. Another version could be "Fred's oversight of the project was a key factor in the company's results last year".
    – Chris H
    Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 5:50
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    Fred's lack of oversight was an oversight.
    – flith
    Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 6:50
  • Actually, a certain government body had to rewrite some of their legislate due to this exact word.
    – xyhhx
    Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 18:45
  • I'm not convinced by either of these. For the first one, something like "His oversight led to failure" would be better: could refer to either his inadequate supervision or to his omission, whereas oversight of something can only really refer to supervision. I don't think the second one works at all: "alarms set off" only really means "alarms triggered", whereas "alarms disabled" would be "alarms set to off". Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 19:55

Doesn't translate in spelling - but does verbally:

"raise" vs "raze".

"Raise a barn" - means to errect/construct it

"Raze a barn" - means to burn it to the ground

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    The spelling difference can work well here. An incompetent person might use the wrong spelling.
    – Tim Grant
    Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 19:42

Since I've already botched this one myself, there is the prescribe/proscribe pair that can have serious unintended consequences.


2 : to designate or order the use of as a remedy prescribed a painkiller a prescribed burn to restore natural forest conditions


2 : to condemn or forbid as harmful or unlawful : prohibit

both from MW online

  • This is a good one - especially as "prescribe" can also mean "make compulsory", basically the exact opposit of "proscribe" :)
    – psmears
    Commented Apr 13, 2017 at 15:48
  • This is an excellent one. If proscribe isn't in your vocabulary you think it's a typo of prescribe.
    – Joshua
    Commented Apr 13, 2017 at 22:19

There are many contranyms which meet your requirements. Here is a list of 75 possible candidates, including:

Cleave: to join or to separate

Dike: a wall or a ditch

Left: remaining or departed

EDIT: adding Gust van de Wal's comment from below:

Cleave: "Yeah so there's a crack in one of the bombshells. Make sure you cleave it, otherwise it might explode"

Dike: "Quickly, there is a tsunami coming! Go to the dike!"

Left: Leaving a burning building "How about the other people??" "Nobody's left"

  • I don't think these necessarily convey or convey the type of overt danger the OP was looking for - but still +1 for a fun and interesting read ;-)
    – Brad
    Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 21:01
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    @Brad Cleave: "Yeah so there's a crack in one of the bombshells. Make sure you cleave it, otherwise it might explode" Dike: "Quickly, there is a tsunami coming! Go to the dike!" Left: Leaving a burning building "How about the other people??" "Nobody's left" Commented Apr 13, 2017 at 13:36
  • @GustvandeWal: "Cleave" in either sense is uncommon, the join sense more so (and usually as "cleave to"), so that seems contrived. "Dike" is also uncommon, and knowing local geography would probably clarify that one. But the "left" example has potential. I can absolutely see that being used wrongly by a non-native but generally competent English speaker. (A native speaker would almost surely say "nobody's left yet" or the like if that's what they meant.) Commented Apr 14, 2017 at 13:13
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    Note that in the "Nobody's left" example, the contraction is what makes it ambiguous. "Nobody has left" vs "Nobody is left"
    – Marty Neal
    Commented Apr 14, 2017 at 15:44
  • I'm upvoting for pointing at contranyms in general, rather than these specific examples.
    – Bobson
    Commented Apr 14, 2017 at 21:19

Hyperthermia and Hypothermia in quick speech (especially in non-Rhotic dialects) can sound very similar. Similar with hypo and hyper for diabetics. The hypo- prefix in medicine means "deficient" whereas the hyper- prefix means "excessive". They therefore usually refer to conditions that are the exact opposite of each other, where the correct treatment for one can instead exacerbate the opposite condition.

  • This would be a better answer if the two prefixes hyper and hypo were explained, along with the consequences of getting them wrong.
    – Stewart
    Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 10:49
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    Both hyper- and hypothermia kill quickly, and context normally makes it clear which one it is. A better example would be hyper- vs. hypoglycemia. Hypoglycemia is an emergency that requires immediate intervention to keep someone alive. Hyperglycemia is bad, but it kills slowly. If you say "hypoglycemia" and it's misheard as "hyper", that could lead to someone's death. (at least, in the EMT world)
    – anon
    Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 12:25
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    Not to mention hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism, although getting the wrong treatment here is probably less likely. Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 15:29
  • Hypo/hyperglycemia. I.e. hyper = high blood sugar in which one may administer insulin to bring the level down. Hypo would require sugary food to bring the level up. Mishearing would result in doing the exact opposite and possibly causing serious injury or death.
    – redcalx
    Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 17:11

Suppose you have two students, Bill and Susan, who are running from a pack of hungry beasts. "Make yourself fast!" Bill shouts, calling on Susan to move more quickly. Instead, she ties herself down to a nearby tree.


Firmly fixed or fastened.

"No, no," Bill shouts, "I mean go fast!"


moving or able to move, operate, function, or take effect quickly; quick; swift; rapid:

Luckily, the beasts listened as well, and moved right past the both of them.


to abstain from all food.

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    "fasten" doesn't mean speed up or move more quickly.
    – Vicky
    Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 11:53
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    @Vicky Right, "fasten" in that case is the error. As opposed to "go faster." Telling a monster to "go fast" is just the icing on the cake -- it could mean "speed up" or "abstain from eating" Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 12:43
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    -1 "Fasten" simply does not mean "make faster". Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 12:57
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    @DavidRicherby right, just like "inflammable" doesn't mean "non-flammable." The whole point is that the statement is erroneous. Note that I have a separate definition link for "fasten" and "fast." Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 13:03
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    OK, but believing that "inflammable" means "non-flammable" is a common mistake. There is no widespread belief that "fasten" means "hasten"; it's a contrived example that just doesn't occur in reality. Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 13:08

I'm really not sure whether the OP is asking for words that truly have more than one CORRECT meaning(like "sanction"), or for examples or words that are commonly MIS-used or misunderstood, but here goes:

Radiologist reads an Xray and dictates into his report: "This finding obviates the need for a CT scan." The guy saying this, THINKS that obviates means "makes obvious," when of course it means the opposite. The physician reading the report(and applying it to his patient) takes the CORRECT meaning, which is "to prevent, remove or avoid" and doesn't order the CT scan.



In a firing squad, this command gets someone shot.

In any other circumstance, it warns that there is a danger of things being aflame.

If someone shouts it at a firing range, then it could potentially be misinterpreted in fatal ways.

  • An active shooting squad could open fire, taking a life that could have been pardoned at the last minute;
  • Trainers on the firing range could open fire, shooting people they didn't notice who were cleaning the range;
  • It could be ignored as a warning by everyone in the vicinity in the assumption that it is a command, allowing the flames to take lives.

To be honest, the first two are unlikely in any case where the shooters have had any gun training whatsoever, but still. It's an example where context could kill.


I don't know if this is what you're looking for, but it happened two years ago near where I live: Dutch teen killed in bungee accident misunderstood verbal instructions

And this is where a linguistic misunderstanding gets lethal:

The ongoing police investigation into the accident now seems to point to a linguistic misunderstanding as a possible cause. Sources believe that the young woman thought she heard the monitor say “now jump,” instead of “no jump,” prompting her to leap off the bridge before her harness had been properly fixed.

It was the monitor's fault, obviously. Knowing correct English grammar could've saved the girl's life.


So, you're a snowplough operator working at an airport, and you're told to "Clear Runway 08 immediately!" Do you start removing the snow, or get out of the way of the incoming aircraft?


I'm not sure if this is what you are looking for, but...

I was hanging out with a group of young (20's give or take a few years) guys in a park in a moderately rough area of New Orleans (by NOLA standards. Anywhere else I've lived it would have been downright rough) in the mid 1980's. This was a deeply homophobic time, and in the deep South.

A guy visiting from Australia came up to us and asked for "a fag". It was eventually established that this was how cigarettes are referred to in his country, but there were some really tense moments there.*

In that time and place "fag" only meant you were calling someone out as a homosexual. Practically, it was used as the absolute best way to start a fight with a guy quickly if you didn't want to bother with a lot of pre-fight foreplay.

* - Lest your 2017 brain think this wasn't that serious, a few years prior to that a former friend of mine was arrested for helping beat to death a gay guy near a convenience store. The Matthew Sheppard death a decade later was only unusual that people put up a fuss about it. So yes, in that time and place this could be a life-or-death matter. The "Good old days" weren't all that good.


"Before I go on vacation, just remember this piece of advice: you can never put too much water in the nuclear reactor"

This can either be a dire warning that too much water can cause major problems or a recommendation that when in doubt, one should flood the reactor.

Context and phrasing are unhelpful in determining the actual intent of the message and misinterpretation could cause dire consequences.

  • That's poor grammer. " ... can never..." is not a correct imperative form. Commented Apr 13, 2017 at 19:25
  • Is that one meaning of "can never" is actually "should never"?
    – Stewart
    Commented Apr 14, 2017 at 22:48
  • If you interpret it as a shortened form of "you can never do x without consequence y"? And IIRC, this example is interesting because with some reactor types the first interpretation is true, with others the second... Commented Apr 18, 2017 at 7:40

"If we're going to have unprotected sex, I want to be certain that we don't catch anything from each other. Are you sure of your HIV status?"

"I'm positive."


Nigger is used as both a racial slur and term of endearment. Demonstrates how the same word can have an antipodal meaning.

EDIT: Per requests, below is a fuller elaboration of the above.

this is to promote the idea of the aspect of competently communicating one's ideas.

Words are symbols that reflect an idea. When we communicate with another person, one assumption we are making is that our words map to the same, or at the very least, a similar idea.

Problems emerge when the idea we are trying to convey with a particular word has different meaning to our recipient. The importance of this is that in order to communicate competently, we need to appreciate that it takes more than just words in order to "speak the same language".

I think nigger is a good example of this, with the N-word and nigga reflecting our peculiar attempts to navigate this treacherous terrain.

By way of example, we consider the following scene from the comedy film 40 Year Old Virgin (2005).

Here, two African-American men get into an argument. At first, nigger is used endearingly, but interpreted to mean servitude. Matters quickly escalate:

Customer: Now don't be a negro, be my nigga. aight, help me out.
Jay: Woah woah woah hold on, I ain't nobody's nigga.

Customer: Well, I mean you's somebody's nigga, wearing this nigga tie.

Jay: Now you're being condescending. See you've been warned aight. Just move forward amicably.

[Further antagonism by customer]

Jay: Okay see, see now you found yourself a nigga. You was looking for a nigga, Nigga here now!

Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DmYkt2RkhsI

In the following, we note attempts to reconcile these two contrasting meanings by attempting to delineate nigga from nigger.

Disagreement about the appropriateness of this resulted in the suspension of a high school teacher. The image below is a satirisation of the event in an episode of the animated comedy Boondocks

enter image description here

The original news report may be viewed here and is recommended. I find it both hilarious and interesting:


Lethality of misuse

Would misuse of nigger lead to actual bodily harm or death? Although it's possible, it's highly unlikely. However, I firmly believe that its inappropriate use can effectively lead to a type of social death.

One example of this is the end of the stand-up comedy career of Michael Richards, who played the character Kramer in the TV comedy series Seinfeld after he used nigger in a comedy routine.

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    How is 'nigger' a term of endearment? Please provide source & example.
    – TrevorD
    Commented Apr 11, 2017 at 23:42
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    @TrevorD It's a terrible example since it's the exact same word and sense, but one black man can say it to another in the same way most insults can be used ironically or affectionately. ("You dummy", "you varlet", "you little monkey", "you dirty whore", "you right cunt", &c.) It does not have antipodal meanings for people to whom it cannot be applied, just the one.
    – lly
    Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 3:03
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    ^ no, i believe "nigger" can be used to connote "brotherhood" in an entirely non-pejorative sense.
    – faustus
    Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 7:17
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    Where I lived in NYC, calling a black person "my nigga" as a white man would probably get you a high five if you were close friends, a funny look if you knew each other and were friendly but not really friends, and shot if you didn't know them.
    – anon
    Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 12:22
  • Rush Hour Whats up my nigga? youtube.com/watch?v=YyXuP48LDOE
    – TecBrat
    Commented Apr 13, 2017 at 16:46

How about 'resign' ?

Arsenal fans devastated as Wenger resigns

This could either mean he quits his job by resigning from it, or commits his future to it by re-signing with the team.

  • Any careful writer would use "re-signs" if they meant "signs again". Commented Apr 13, 2017 at 9:26
  • Indeed, but an incompetent one might not :) Commented Apr 13, 2017 at 10:19
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    I didn't even understand the issue here without the comment from @DavidRicherby. We are not all football fansand I couldn't see how "resigns" means "commits his future". I suggest amplifying your answer.
    – TrevorD
    Commented Apr 13, 2017 at 11:06
  • I've edited to answer to clarify it as proposed.
    – TrevorD
    Commented Apr 13, 2017 at 12:02
  • Not altogether lethal, though. Commented Apr 13, 2017 at 16:01

"execution". Very positive meaning in planning, but with the secondary meaning of judicially sanctioned murder....

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    Provide an example, if you please. Commented Apr 13, 2017 at 16:02
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    On a site like engrish.com, I saw something like "customers will be executed in the order they arrived".
    – TecBrat
    Commented Apr 13, 2017 at 17:06

Any case where the same word is used for a person's or animals job or role and a machine/tool/implement/software product (or its brand) could end in serious tragedy at least:

"Not willing to work with this editor for a minute longer" — not good in a company that has computers and people writing news copy.

"Throw out the foreman!" — both a brand of grill and the chief on a crew of workers

"The watchdog is full of bugs, kill it!" — a computer program or a canine?

"This aviation show is not going on TV since the pilot failed."

"This driver regularly crashes the bus" — this could describe a computer hardware problem or traffic accidents ... and be a confusing problem description in automotive software!


I have two examples to offer.

The first is not so much English, as visual, but definitely can lead to a dangerous situation in normal life:

  • In the UK, the road sign for "Cycling Forbidden" is a red circle with a bicycle symbol inside: List item

    But I have met people (mostly teenagers or people who don't drive) who honestly believe this means "Official Cycle Route".

    You would expect cycling to be forbidden in places where it is dangerous to do so, so obviously this signage could be improved (most common suggestion being to put a red line through it the circle.)

The second suggestion may not lead to physical danger, but could be socially awkward or embarrassing:

  • I've met foreign-language speakers who confuse sensible and sensitive, for example, if they say: "I've very sensible about your position."
  • The sign isn't a word and confusing sensible/sensitive has no serious consequences. Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 12:52
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    Sensible / sensitive have, for whatever reasons, exchanged meaning in different languages. So in French, "sensible" really does mean "sensitive". It's a common example of a "false friend", of which there are many when learning languages.
    – IMSoP
    Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 14:10
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    Or in the title Sense and Sensibility where one sister had more SENSE(practicality, self-command) and the other had more SENSIBILITY, which meant she was more driven by her emotions. We would describe her as SENSITIVE today(in the U.S.)
    – michelle
    Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 15:33
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    The red circle sign (with a person in it) lead me to run on a train-only section of track in a foreign country. Americans like me get confused by signs like these.
    – Shokhet
    Commented Apr 14, 2017 at 20:43

What word if not used competently could end up leading to injury or death in a context that most people could understand with little-to-no explanation?

The word is "ok".

Well, this example does require a somewhat elaborate explanation, but the use of the word "ok" by an air traffic controller was a contributing factor in the Tenerife airport disaster in 1977, a collision of two planes that killed 583 people and was the deadliest accident in aviation history.

More generally, the events leading to the collision involved several language-based communication failures that led to the decision of the pilot of one of the planes to begin a takeoff roll despite not receiving an official clearance to take off from air traffic control. The nonstandard use of the word "ok" by the air traffic controller was apparently one of the possible sources of the confusion. As Wikipedia explains:

The controller, who could not see the runway due to the fog, initially responded with "OK" (terminology which is nonstandard), which reinforced the KLM captain's misinterpretation that they had takeoff clearance. The controller's response of "OK" to the co-pilot's nonstandard statement that they were "now at takeoff" was likely due to his misinterpretation that they were in takeoff position and ready to begin the roll when takeoff clearance was received, but not in the process of taking off.

As I said, the full analysis of the causes of he accident is a lot more complicated. The Wikipedia article has a detailed account of this tragic event, which incidentally led to a serious reform of radio communication procedures for pilots and controllers (including the implementation of strict rules regarding when specific words such as "takeoff" may be used).

Indeed, even after that reform, poor verbal communication has been a direct cause or a contributing factor in many aviation accidents, though the Tenerife airport disaster is clearly the most dramatic and tragic example. The folks over at aviation.stackexchange will surely know about many more stories illustrating the crucial importance of communication in aviation safety.


Perhaps a French person seeking a bottle of fish juice might drink from a bottle marked with the English word "Poison". (The French "Poisson" meaning "fish")

  • Welcome to English Language & Usage! Please explain your answer, preferably with some supporting statements and references. While opinions are valued, they are not of much help as answers.
    – NVZ
    Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 4:53
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    No, because "poison" is also French for poison. Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 12:55
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    But an English person might open a German box that says Gift. Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 15:25
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    Urban legends abound of german customs&imports getting badly confused by that :) Commented Apr 13, 2017 at 8:27

Death, probably not, but level of pain inflicted, highly dependant.

If I, an Englishman, pinch a woman's fanny I'm likely to be kicked soundly in the groin, whereas if an American pinches a woman's fanny he might get away with being slapped.

In order to avoid damage to my family jewels I would have to turn her around and pinch her bum. Oh dear, there I go again. I mean her bottom, not the neighbourhood homeless man.

This is why the British have bum bags, whilst Americans have fanny packs.

  • 2
    This is an example of slang differentiation, and not incompetence. Commented Apr 13, 2017 at 16:03
  • I like the joke, but it doesn't belong to this question :-( Commented Apr 13, 2017 at 16:04

The word 'five' is generally omitted from countdowns for warfare or similar given its similarity to the word 'fire'

e.g. Six... ... Four... Three.. Two...

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    Five is right out! Commented Apr 13, 2017 at 15:24
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    [citation needed] Commented Apr 13, 2017 at 19:27

Go with "sanguine".


  1. cheerfully optimistic, hopeful, or confident: a sanguine disposition; sanguine expectations.
  2. bloody; sanguinary.

The juxtaposition between its meanings for both hopeful and bloody make it a cinch for this kind of use. The phrase "I'm looking for a sanguine resolution of this situation" could mean either a positive outcome or something more along the lines of "shoot everyone in the head."

Hopeful or bloody... it's a word that really covers all your options. :)



  • Put stuff in a vehicle or ship or means of storage, run computer programs .... mostly harmless.

  • put strain on construction or electrical equipment ... can go wrong if overdone

  • Make a firearm operational ... mostly not harmless at all.


An innocent man with unfortunate luck in the courts stands before a firing squad and pleads for his life.

The captain, an hardened officer with no patience for drama, calmly says "Ready." His the squad prepares to fire.

The captain nonchalantly orders: "Aim" and the squad levels their rifles.

Suddenly, an red-faced courier arrives with a last-minute commutation from the local magistrate. The captain reads the letter with disappointment. "Ah, shoot."


John lives with and takes care of his elderly mother. In order for John to go on a vacation, John's brother, Carl, volunteers to help with the care of their mother. John verbally lists all the daily tasks that Carl will need to do to help their mother--Carl won't need to stay there but will have to check in at least a couple times every day.

One of the instructions that John gives Carl regards their mother's medicines. "She has four prescriptions waiting for pickup tomorrow at the pharmacist. You'll need to pick those up so you can give them to her." The next day, Carl goes to the pharmacist and gets the prescription refills. He takes them to the mother's residence and sets them on the counter, telling her where they are. After completing his other chores, Carl leaves for the night. The next day, Carl finds his mother in a bad medical state.

When John used the word give, he intended for Carl to make sure the medicines were administered to the mother. Carl took it as meaning to hand over possession of. He didn't realize that the elderly woman had trouble remembering how and when to take her prescriptions.


1— What did you do with the damaged part of the engine?

2— I have simply replaced it.

1— Fine, you can restart operations then.

...Of course if "replace" in the mind of 2 means "Put (something) back in a previous place or position" while it is "Provide a substitute for (something that is broken, old, or inoperative)", then restarting operations may be very dangerous...

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