Which Word Wednesday: Misconception vs. Misperception

By March 21, 2012 language 13 Comments

The other day I was typing away, working on a document for a client, when that little red squiggly line appeared under a word I had typed. I stared and stared at the word, trying to figure out why it had been marked by Word’s Grammar Troll. The word didn’t look to be spelled incorrectly, so then I wondered if I had coupled it with a wrong verb tense—but that wasn’t it either.

Then it dawned on me. The red squiggly was telling me that my word of choice was not a word at all. eek!

The word in question? Misperception. I was explaining how some beliefs we hold are incorrect because the facts we hold to aren’t really facts at all. So the word I needed was misconception or misunderstanding or misbelief—but not misperception, because according to The Oxford American Dictionary, that’s not even a word.

Now given, it is a word—we can read it and say it in plain English. It exists. And according to a quick online search, other people think it’s a word too, with 1.37 million uses of it on the Internet. (Well, let’s hope most of those occurrences are to set the record straight about this non-word usage.)

That brings us to Which Word Wednesday! Let’s look at the definitions from The Oxford American Dictionary for the word I needed in my sentence, misconception, and pair it with the root of my non-word, perception:

misconception :: noun
a view or opinion that is incorrect because it is based on faulty thinking or understanding

perception :: noun
a way of regarding, understanding, or interpreting something; a mental impression

What I’m seeing is that misconceptions are inherently incorrect, and once all the facts are known, everyone would adjust to a new conception about the matter. For example, it was a misconception that the world was flat. Once we had facts, conceptions changed to align with the correct understanding that the world was round.

On the other hand, perceptions are simply the way you perceive something, which is sort of personal, neither right or wrong. I may see improper word use as a major catastrophe, while others aren’t quite so bothered by it. (But they should be.)

What’s my WWW verdict? Some words sound right when you hear them and even look correct when you see them, but that doesn’t mean they are words. Give it about 50 years though—heavy usage is nine-tenths of law.

What’s your verdict? Have you used misperception instead of misconception? What other non-words should we be watching for? Do share in the comments.

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Check out previous Which Word Wednesday verdicts here.

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