- Education and Science
Top Ten Misused Phrases
Guaranteed to make you look foolish
They're called malapropisms, Dogberryisms, acyrologia or eggcorns. But, these misused and mangled phrases by any other name just make the user look foolish at best, but more likely, stoopid! Expect at least a snicker if you utter them; they could even help you to get passed over for a job.
These are some of the more humorous, misused phrases I've heard coming from the mouths of native English speakers.
Please don't use them.
"Take for Granite"
In Greek mythology, it was said that if you gazed upon Medusa, a Gorgon with hair made of serpents, you would turn to stone.
If you've recently looked at Medusa, it's entirely possible that others will "take you for granite."
However, if you're trying to say that someone never shows gratitude for the things you do, or expects you to always be available, the correct phrase would be "s/he takes me for granted."
Example: "I stop at Starbucks every morning and pick up a coffee for him. He just nods at me and doesn't even say thank you anymore. I think he takes me for granted."
"Doggy Dog World"
One of the many times I heard this malapropism was at a company cocktail party. It came from the mouth of a young, arrogant consultant who thought my concept for team building was unrealistic. When he explained that expecting such cooperation was unrealistic because it was a "doggy dog world," I nearly spit white wine on myself. I suppose I could've and should've corrected him, but my evil twin sister took over and ... well, I didn't.
As a dog lover, I actually prefer this mangling of the phrase. I don't like the idea that there are people who will do anything to serve their own interests, even if it harms others. So, using a cute phrase like "it's a doggy dog world," somehow makes a situation a little less odious. However, the correct phrase is dog eat dog world. Makes much more sense, doesn't it?
Example: "People will do anything to get ahead. It's a dog eat dog world."
"For All Intensive Purposes"
I'll admit, on this one I'm being picky. "For all intensive purposes" actually makes some sense. But, it's still wrong.
The phrase simply mean "under most practical situations or circumstances", or "in every practical sense." But the correct usage is either for all intents and purposes or in all intents and purposes.
Example: "We're still need to formally interview other candidates for the job, but I'm impressed with you. For all intents and purposes, you have the job."
"Could Care Less"
I hear this used all the time. I see it written all the time.
If you "could care less," it means that something has some importance to you and that you care at least a little. If you want to say that it's impossible for you to have less interest in something, then the phrase is I couldn't care less.
Example: "The football match was a complete bore. I couldn't care less about the outcome."
Say you own a half a dozen goats. You wake up one morning and you discover there are only five goats. One of your goats is an "escape goat."
However, if you're referring to someone who is bearing the blame for something someone else did, then the correct word is scapegoat.
Example: "The poor guy, he's completely innocent. But they have to find someone to blame. He's a scapegoat."
I grew up in the suburbs. When I came across my first spiked fence, I was well into elementary school. When I was told what it was, I remember wondering, "Who's Bob?" and "Why did he leave his fence there?"
The correct term is barbed wire and it's a type of fencing wire that has sharp edges (that are "barbed"). It was originally designed and used for deterring animals. It's since evolved in use and can be found not only in the countryside, but in cities, prisons and sometimes suburbs. It's used to keep animals and people both in and out.
Example: "The post office looked like a prison. The wall around it had barbed wire all along the top."
And Bob's your uncle!
"All Woks of Life"
I quite enjoy Chinese cooking and as a result, I actually know something about the materials that should be used. A wok is a round-bottomed pan that can be used in a variety of ways, i.e., stir-frying, braising, steaming, deep-frying and eve for making soup. They are commonly made from cast-iron or carbon steel, but you can also find them in steel with Teflon or Xylan coating or in aluminum. They can range in size and can have either stick or loop handles.
I have just provided you an overview of "all woks of life."
However, if you wish to refer to people of all occupations, social classes, lifestyles, cultural backgrounds, etc. the phrase is all walks of life.
Example: "We held a demonstration, the participants were as diverse as I've ever seen. They were from all walks of life."
"Nip it in the Butt"
The phrase refers to dealing with a problem when it is still small and before it grows into something larger and more dangerous.
In a couple of my travels I've actually had men nip me in the butt. I can assure you that by doing so, they did not fend off a problem, quite the contrary. They had a huge problem on their hands.
The correct phrase is nip it in the bud and it originates from horticulture. If you prune a flower in its budding stage to keep it from growing, you "nip it in the bud."
Example: "If we ignore this problem, it's just going to grow. We need to take action. Le's nip it in the bud."
"Play It By Year"
When a musician plays intuitively or instinctually without printed music, one says s/he "plays by ear." Though I was not able to find a clear etymology for the phrase, my assumption is that this is where it comes from.
The correct phrase for improvising or adapting as you go along is to play it by ear. If someone tells me we're going to "play it by year," I assume that it will take a very, very, very long time.
Example: "We've got lots of options for Saturday night. Let's see how we feel and play it by ear."
Contrary to what one might think, this term does not refer to a miracle spot remover that will Shout out the remains of last night's beer bash that landed on your favorite t-shirt. This malapropism refers to a technique used to assist a choking victim. It involves standing behind the victim, wrapping your arms around his or her torso and using your hands to apply pressure on the bottom of the diaphragm. It's more commonly and correctly known as the Heimlich Maneuver.
Example: "He was choking on his cheese sandwich, I got behind him, grabbed him and performed the Heimlich Maneuver. He spit up the piece of bread. I was the hero of the evening!"
No joke, I've heard this used more than a couple of times by different people. And, they weren't drunk on Heineken.