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7 Science Words You May Be Using Incorrectly

You won’t misuse these words ever again!

| 3 min read

You won’t misuse these words ever again!

The English language is one of the most difficult to learn -— it is full of contradictions according to Oxford Royale Academy.  For example, there is no ham in hamburger, and there isn’t any apple or pine in pineapple!  “Overlook” and “oversee” have opposite meanings, however “look” and “see” mean the same thing.

Even the “i before e after c” rule has its exceptions — what about the words science and weird?  Given the tricky nature of everyday English, it is easy to see how we could get things wrong when it comes to science, because words often have a different meaning for scientists than they do for the rest of the population.

Here is a list to make sure you never get it wrong again.


The word “theory” is used a lot in regular conversation, often to represent an idea that someone has in their head, but it is usually not rooted in experimentation or testing.  To a scientist, however, the word theory is the highest honor you can give an idea.

In order for an idea to become a theory in science, it has to go through the following process: scientists make an observation, come up with some hypotheses to explain it, and experimentally test each one, over and over again.  

Once they have enough scientifically verified hypotheses, they can begin to put them together to come up with a theory.  By this point, it is pretty well accepted by the scientific community.

SEE ALSO: 7 Common Misunderstandings About Evolution Explained

Natural and Organic

The words natural and organic are something we hear all the time.  However, all natural means that it is something that exists in nature, but that doesn’t necessarily make it good for you.  For example, uranium is natural, but if you hang around it long enough, you are going to die.  

Natural’s cousin, organic, also has a problematic meaning.  To a scientist, organic simply means carbon-based, but the term is now used to describe pesticide-free foods and products.


Many people don’t realize that the word dinosaur refers only to ancient reptiles that lived on land, not marine or flying reptiles.  I long thought that my favourite dinosaur, the pterodactyl, was in fact a dinosaur.

However, ancient flying reptiles are called pterosaurs, while the marine reptiles are called plesiosaurs, ichthyosaurs, mosasaurs, and thalattosaurs.

Poisonous and Venomous

The words poisonous and venomous are often used interchangeably, and although both are toxins, how each is delivered is substantially different.

A poison is inhaled, ingested or absorbed, while a venom is usually delivered via fangs.  It is an important distinction to be aware of, especially if you are worried about something that has bitten you or something that you ate.


The problem with this word is that people often use the term “statistically significant” to show that a finding is important.  However, in science, the word actually means something pretty specific — that the result was unlikely to have occurred by random chance.  It doesn’t reflect how meaningful the finding is.

Nature vs. Nurture

This is a phrase scientists dislike because it oversimplifies a complicated process, said Dan Kruger, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Michigan to LiveScience.

It is true that we are defined by our genes (nature), but genes can be turned on and off throughout our lives, due to “epigenetic” changes.  Epigenetics are influenced mostly by our environment and our experiences (nurture).

The distinct between genetics and the environment is not a clear as we once thought, so let’s try to not use the phrase anymore.


When people do not accept, for example, human-caused climate change, the media refers to them as “climate skeptics.  But that may give them too much credit, Michael Mann, a climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University, wrote in an email to LiveScience.

“Simply denying mainstream science based on flimsy, invalid and too-often agenda-driven critiques of science is not skepticism at all. It is contrarianism ... or denial,” Mann continued.

True skeptics are open to scientific evidence and are willing to assess it.

You might also like: The Difference between Skepticism and Conspiratorial Thinking

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