Today’s post is brought to you by the letter ‘Q’, which I spent far too much time thinking about… mostly because I had no idea what to write this post about. And I’m still behind on the challenge (but that’s nothing new).
So, we’re going to take a few moments to look at a commonly misused word! Yay, words!
Our word for the day is: Quintessential.
Here’s the definition from dictionary.com:
1. the pure and concentrated essence of a substance.
2. the most perfect embodiment of something.
And how about from Merriam-Webster online?
1: the fifth and highest element in ancient and medieval philosophy that permeates all nature and is the substance composing the celestial bodies
2: the essence of a thing in its purest and most concentrated form
3: the most typical example or representative <the quintessence of calm>
The adjectival form of the word is ‘quintessential’. But ask yourself this: When was the last time you used this word, intending it to mean “the most important thing”?
I’ve heard people describe something and use ‘quintessential’ like this: “The painting was absolutely beautiful, but the quintessential element was the brushstroke technique.”
Or like this: “Flour, sugar, and water are the main parts of this recipe, but the quintessential ingredient is the chocolate!”
These examples use the word to convey that something is the most essential. But, as you can see from the definitions above, that’s the incorrect way to use the word! And now you know.
When was the last time you tried to explain that something was the ‘most essential’ by using ‘quintessential’ instead? Are there any other common words you’ve misused before?