Confusing words

Some common phrases that many people say (or write) wrong

From Rick:

The phrases on the left are incorrect, the ones on the right are correct.

(1) Nip it in the butt vs. Nip it in the bud

Nipping something in the bud means that you’re putting an end to it before it has a chance to grow or start, not biting its behind.

(2) I could care less vs. I couldn’t care less

Saying that you could care less about a topic implies that you do care about it, at least a little. What you usually mean is that you don’t care about the topic at all. I couldn’t care less means there’s no way to go but up (toward more caring).

(3) One in the same vs. One and the same

If you think about it, one in the same is a nonsense phrase. What does one in mean? However, one AND the same means that two things are the same.

(4) You’ve got another thing coming vs. You’ve got another think coming

While the first phrase isn’t exactly nonsense, it doesn’t mean what the phrase is supposed to mean. The first phrase says that something else is on its way to you. You need to see this phrase in its full content to appreciate the meaning: If that’s what you think, you’ve got another think coming.

(5) Statue of limitations vs. Statute of limitations

We all know what a statue is. A statute is a written law created by a government. So, unless someone made a statue that had something to do with or represented limitations…

(6) For all intensive purposes vs. For all intents and purposes

You may feel very strongly and intense about your purpose, but that doesn’t make the phrase correct. The correct phrase means that you are covering all possibilities and circumstances.

(7) Expresso vs. Espresso

I’m sure those of you who work at coffee shops have had people order an expresso before. There’s no such drink. The confusion arises from misunderstanding that espresso is an Italian word, and “X” is not part of the proper Italian alphabet. We think too much in English and think the word is derived from our word “express.”

(8) Momento vs. Memento

Momento isn’t a word, not in English, anyway. In Spanish it means “moment.” A memento is a keepsake.

(9) Scotch free and Scott free vs. Scot free

There doesn’t seem to be universal agreement as to the origin of the phrase, but know that it’s scot free.

(10) I made a complete 360 degree change in my life vs. I made a complete 180 degree change in my life

People say they’ve made a complete 360 degree change in their life to imply that they’ve completely changed from the way they used to be. However, going 360 degrees means that you’ve returned to the exact same place you started, or come full circle. (Remember that there are 360 degrees in a circle?) This would mean you didn’t change at all. A 180 degree change would mean that you are the complete opposite, which is what most people are trying to say.

(11) Hone in vs. Home in

The word hone means to sharpen or improve somehow. For example, you can hone your speaking skills. To home in on something means to get closer to it. [I’ve been trying to hone my novel writing skills by taking workshops.] [I’ve been trying to home in on the best color laser printer in my price range by comparing various reviews.]

(12) Jive with vs. Jibe with

To say “jive with” means a person is cool with it, but in the sense most people use the expression, they mean “to agree with.” [The way I was taught to drive doesn’t jibe with how my dad drove a car.]

(13) Outside of vs. Outside

Using “of” with “outside” is simply redundant usage. We don’t say something is inside of something do we? Well, if you do, you’re wrong there as well.

(14) Make due vs. Make do

Make due would mean to cause to be due (as a payment), but the expression here means to make something work, as making it do something in the situation.

(15) Peak/peek my interest vs. Pique my interest

I often see these three words confused. All three can be nouns or verbs, although the last one is rarely used as a noun. Peak refers to something coming to a point or reaching the highest point, as a mountain peak or to having a stock price peak. Peek means a quick look or to give a quick look at something. Pique means to provoke, arouse, or to cause resentment, from the French meaning “to prick.” The real confusion between peak and pique comes from the belief that “piquing one’s interest” means to raise one’s interest, when it really means to prod or provoke it.

(16) Without further adieu vs. Without further ado

Adieu is French for “goodbye” or “farewell.” Ado means “fuss” or “bother.”

(17) Free reign vs. Free rein

While the first phrase may seem justified as meaning to give a person freedom to rule and the ability to do whatever he pleases, that’s not the meaning of the phrase. It comes from equestrian jargon and means to give the horse freedom of motion and choice, not freedom of rule.

(18) Hunger pains vs. Hunger pangs

While hunger may be painful, the proper word here is “pang.”

(19) Case and point vs. Case in point

This means to bring up an example of the point one is trying to argue, not referring to two things: the case and the point.

(20) Fit as a fiddle vs. In good health

I have to admit to getting this one wrong myself. Fit as a fiddle actually means that something is perfect for its intended use, not in the sense of healthy.

(21) Old adage vs. Adage

Old adage is another redundancy. An “adage” is an old saying or phrase, so the “old” is unnecessary.

(22) Mano a mano vs. Man to man

Some folks seem to think that you make a word “Spanish” by adding an “o” to it. Arnold Schwarzenegger gave us the expression no problemo, but in truth, the Spanish word for “problem” is problema. In the present case, mano in Spanish means “hand.” So, mano a mano would mean “hand to hand,” not “man to man.” If your intended meaning let’s go outside and handle this mano a mano (as in fight it out), then no problema.

(23) Begging the question vs. Raising the question

Here’s another pair of expressions that mean two different things. One begs the question when one means that an argument lacks adequate support from its premise. Raising the question means to bring up the question for discussion.

(24) A mute point vs. A moot point

“Mute” means to be silent. “Moot” means subject to debate or arguable, but has also come to mean “irrelevant” or “no longer important.”

(25) Literally

This is so overused in everyday speech and writing. “Literally” means something is true. He literally cried his eyes out. I don’t think so. It would be a really messy situation. Or, the example I saw was The baby literally screamed all night. Did the baby really cry eight or so hours straight without stopping other than to catch its breath? I find that hard to believe. Don’t use “literally” unless it’s fact.


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