10 English Words Which Mean Nothing What They Sound Like

suffrage the right to vote in political elections

humpty dumpty






When I use a word, it
means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.


That’s how Humpty Dumpty from the book Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll decides the meanings of words!

English is a strange language. It first hits you with the catapult of bizarre spellings, then drops you from the highest floor of the eerie building of grammatical rules and finally shoots you with the bullet of peculiar pronunciations!

You can never depend on the sound of a word to deduce its meaning as there are words which mean nothing what they sound like. The meanings of such words seem to have been decided by Humpty Dumpty himself! Such words are informally called as Phantonyms (phantom + antonym).

Here’s a look at 10 phantonyms in English which are sure to trip even seasoned speakers such as President Obama:


1. Inflammable

inflammable easily set on fire
The opposite of flammable is non-flammable.


2. Disinterested

disinterested impartial unbiased
The opposite of interested is uninterested.


3. Minimus
minimus pinky toe


4. Suffrage
suffrage the right to vote in political elections


5. Fulsome
fulsome excessive flattering


6. Vagitus
vagitus crying of a newborn baby


7. Phosphene
phosphene spots of light seen after rubbing your eyes


8. Noisome
noisome extremely offensive smelling


9. Restive
restive restless


10. Enormity
enormity extreme wickedness

Enormity vs Immensity/Enormousness

Traditionally, enormity just means extreme wickedness or atrocity. But in modern times, enormity has been used (sometimes incorrectly) as a synonym for immensity. Although this is not “incorrect” per se, it is bound to cause confusion as the implied meaning is not immediately clear.

Consider a sentence like: “I marveled at the enormity of my friend’s heart”.
Here, does the speaker marvel at the largeness of his friend’s heart, or at the wickedness of his friend’s heart?

In order to avoid this confusion, “purists” suggest using enormity only in its traditional sense – that to imply extreme wickedness. So, although dictionaries may list immensity as a synonym for enormity, they do not tell you the correct usage.

Also checkout this and this for more on the confusion between enormity and immensity.



  1. Yoou can definitely see your expwrtise within tthe work you write.
    The world hopes for even more passionate writers such aas
    you who aren’t afraid to say how they believe. Always follow your heart.

  2. Hi! This post couldn’t be written any better! Reading through this post reminds me of my good old room mate! He always kept chatting about this. I will forward this post to him. Pretty sure he will have a good read. Many thanks for sharing!

  3. I didn’t know that ‘restive’ could mean totally different from what it sounds like. Please make more pictures like these ones. Really helpful!

  4. Very interesting! Especially the word enormity! In this crazy fast living world no one really has the time to check out correct usage of words……

  5. This is very interesting. I am going to share this with the kids I work with. I feel like that’s the thing with languages… a lot of different meanings.


    • Thanks Ophelia … It’s great to hear that our post would help kids 🙂

  6. This is really interesting! The English language is crazy. I’ve got two small kids and they’re always saying things wrong. Then I have a hard time explaining why it’s wrong. Especially when what they’ve said actually makes more sense than the proper way.

    • Thanks for your positive comments Holly. Yep, kids always pick up the wrong words for the right reasons … or is it the right words for the wrong reasons? Anyways Thanks again!

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