Compared to other languages, English isn’t particularly complex. But do other languages have nearly as many similar sounding words and phrases? We’ve all made the mistake of consistently butchering a phrase or two, not realizing it until someone had the nerve to correct us. Unless you couldn’t care less about sounding silly, it’s wise to double check the ones about which you’re unsure. Listed below are a few of the most commonly misheard and misunderstood phrases — those pesky egg-corns and malapropisms that have multiplied through the years. Avoid these at all costs.
It should be noted that phrases do evolve, and the new way of saying them can become the accepted colloquialism. There is some debate as to whether or not that should be the case with “could care less,” which is recognized by the Oxford Dictionary. Even still, the phrase doesn’t make sense, as it means that you care at least a little bit. If you couldn’t care less, then you couldn’t care at all. There’s a clear difference.
According to Merriam-Webster moot means obsolete, essentially meaning when someone makes “a moot point,” it’s completely worthless to debate. The words sound alike and the incorrect phrase somewhat makes sense — if you can’t hear a point, then what’s it worth? — But it would be wise to mute the “mute” completely if you tend to use the phrase.
This phrase originated in 16th century England when King Henry issued the Statute of Proclamations, which was “to all intents and purposes,” allowing him to modify it at his discretion. Eventually it morphed into “for all intents and purposes,” meaning “in effect.” The use of “for all intensive purposes” has increased in the Internet era, though documented use of it occurred during the 19th century.
There’s quite a difference between stopping something before it flowers and biting someone’s bum. One refers to ending a problem before it grows into something bigger; the other is an action that would cause problems.
Ado means “fuss.” Adieu means “farewell.” From those definitions, you can probably deduct which makes more sense. Think Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. It was much ado about nothing when you stayed up all night worrying about the results of the exam you eventually found out you aced.
Some may assume “peaking one’s interest” is correct because you’ve reached the highest point of their interest. However, “pique” is the correct verb in the phrase, as it means to excite or arouse. In this case, your curiosity has been stimulated.
Something that’s “deep-seated” is situated far below the surface, according to Merriam-Webster. Of course, a deep seed would also be situated far below the surface. Grammarist.com states the correct phrase comes from horseback riding; not gardening or farming.
When you’re “champing at the bit,” you’re showing impatience. But it seems that the authorities of the English language — such as Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary — have shown patience with the use of “chomping at the bit,” which is now more common than the correct phrase, despite the fact that the substitution is inexplicable.
(NOTE from Ric – the authors seemed to have missed the idiomatic understanding that this phrase ‘chomping at the bit’ refers to a horse that is biting the piece of rubber in its mouth (the bit) which is attached to the reins. That is why we say ‘chomping’.)
“Seize” means “to take possession of,” “to attack or overwhelm physically,” or “to bind or fasten together with a lashing of small stuff,” according to Merriam-Webster, so it obviously doesn’t belong in this phrase. Nor should it replace “cease” in “cease and desist” or “cease fire.”
To “sow” is “to plant a seed for growth especially by scattering, ” according to Merriam-Webster. To “reap what you sow” is to get what you deserve — whatever grows is the outcome of sowing. A shirt or sweater would be the outcome of sewing.
“Once and a while” yields 6,320,000 results on Google and a handful of results on Google News. It’s a common error, but most people seem to recognize the correct phrase from the incorrect phrase, as “once in a while” yields a hefty 58,000,000 results.
A layman is someone who lacks specialized knowledge on a topic. If you’re discussing football, and a layman enters the conversation with useless opinions, then it would be totally lame, man. But it wouldn’t be correct, or nice, to label him a “lame man.”
The distorted version of “in the midst of” is a mondegreen, a term for when someone mishears or misinterprets a word. “Midst” and “mist” sound very much alike, but obviously shouldn’t be substituted for one another. “In the midst of” means “in the middle of” or “in the process of,” and has nothing to do with getting wet unless water or mist is inserted after the phrase.
Venturing away from the path most taken can be an offbeat move, but you’re not venturing “off the beat and path.” That little bed and breakfast 20 miles south of the interstate is “off the beaten path.”
You can go into “outer space” or have an “out-of-body experience,” a sensation in which you float outside of your body, but you can’t have an “outer body experience.” Keep that in mind if you ever choose to retell the tale of your traveling soul.