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?

closed as too broad by Hellion, sumelic, Edwin Ashworth, NVZ, tchrist Apr 14 '17 at 21:50

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – tchrist Apr 13 '17 at 23:04

32 Answers 32


"Beat" has constructive meanings in music, construction, and cooking ... and some concerning assault or disapproval...

"The yoghurt is curdling when I add it to the heated sauce" ..."Beat it!"

"They didn't get the texture of these biscuits right" .."I agree, they need to be beaten!"

  • 1
    In that ultimate example, sn't that syntactical confusion, though? I take it you meant confusing the object of the it pronoun with the head and not the iron ingot. – can-ned_food Apr 13 '17 at 16:06
  • Removed the ultimate example (dude, you just created another example :: :) ) because yes, it is confusing... – rackandboneman Apr 18 '17 at 7:43


In general use, a drink, as in "I'll be drinking alcohol tonight, so I should not drive".

In a chemist's usage, alcohol describes a range of compounds, many of which would kill or maim a human if swallowed.

  • -1 "Alcohol" is a term for a class / group of compounds which includes both (i) ingredients in alcoholic drinks; and (ii) many other substances not generally drunk. In fact, the alcoholic components of alcoholic drink could lead to serious harm of death if drunk in sufficient concentration. So this is not an example of a word with multiple - and possibly conflicting - meanings as asked for in the Q.: it is merely an issue of the concentration of the alcoholic ingredient. – TrevorD Apr 13 '17 at 12:10

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