Man thinking "intensive porpoises?"

10 common phrases you’re getting wrong

Elizabeth Bromstein|

Workopolis has been on a bit of a grammar and spelling kick lately.

We’ve covered a fair amount of ground, including but not limited to: the confusion of “they’re,” “their,” and “there,” and of “then” and “than;” the misuse of “literally;” and when you should use “and me” instead of “and I.” But there’s still so much more.

I’ll reiterate that I am not usually a stickler for grammar in day-to-day communication. But most hiring managers are. Also, there are throngs of people out there who love to correct others and will never miss the opportunity to jump on you for a misplaced apostrophe, or a misused word or phrase. Also, you might as well get things right.

Here we look at some popular phrases that people are saying wrong – myself included, apparently.

1. “I could care less. This is the mother of all wrong phrases, and even I get crazy when people use it.

The phrase is actually “I couldn’t care less,” meaning that you care so little it is impossible that you could care less, or, simply put, you do not care at all. When phrased “I could care less about your opinion,” you’re saying that you do care and that there is room for you to care less. So, you care. That’s nice. It’s good to be caring. But you’re using the phrase wrong.

2. “For all intensive purposes.” This actually sounds sort of like it makes sense, as in, “for the purpose of the purposes that are intensive,” which sounds like it could mean something important – but it doesn’t and is not correct.

The phrase is “For all intents and purposes.” It’s adopted from a phrase found in 16th Century English law: “to all intents, constructions, and purposes,” which referred to “the state of a person’s mind that directs his or her actions toward a specific object.”

Now it means, for all practical purposes: “She looked, for all intents and purposes, like she could do the job.”

3. “You’ve got another thing coming.” This one was news to me. I discovered it just now while bopping around the web looking for misused phrases. Apparently, it’s “You’ve got another think coming,” the idea being “If you think that, you’ve got another think coming.”

I say nuts to that. Who uses “think” as a noun?

“You’ve got another thing coming,” as in “if you expect one thing, you’ve got another thing coming,” makes perfect sense to me and I will continue to use it thusly.

Also, I wonder if Judas Priest knows this.

4. “A complete 360.” This is commonly used like this: “A week after accepting the proposal, he did a complete 360 and decided to reject our offer.”

But, if he did a complete 360 degree turn, he would have come all the way back around to accepting your offer again. What he did was a 180 degree turn, and landed facing in the opposite direction.

He did “a complete 180.”

5. “Jive with.” This one has me confounded, but I am including it for the sake of discussion. I’ve been saying “That doesn’t jive with what I heard,” for years. The internet is now telling me the correct term is “jibe with.” But that doesn’t make sense. The jive is a dance, so you can see “jive with” as meaning “dance with” or “work with” or “be in accord with.”

To “jibe” doesn’t actually mean “agree with” or “be in accord with.” It means to mock or insult, or to change course. Only in the context of this phrase is it said to mean “be in accord with.” So, I call foul (unlike calling “fowl” which would mean to hail a chicken) on this one and will continue to use “jive with.”

6. “It’s a doggy dogg world.” The third single off Snoop Dogg’s 1993 debut album is a “Doggy Dogg World.” What we live in is a “dog eat dog world.”

Example: “It’s a dog eat dog world out there and competition for jobs is fierce. So, you better be on your game.”

This phrase is used to demonstrate that it’s a rough world out there, where dogs will cannibalize other dogs (though dogs actually aren’t cannibals in most cases).

7. “On tender hooks.”. Again, at first this sort of seems to make sense – if you take “tender” to mean something akin to “soft” which could translate to “thin” or precarious…it’s a stretch…but it’s there if you look for it. Or maybe you’re thinking something butcher related…meat, tender, meathook…I don’t know.

Regardless (see below), a “tender hook” actually isn’t a real thing.

The expression is a reference to hooks used for stretching in the making of woolen cloth.

The correct phrase is “on tenterhooks,” which means to be in a state of tension (like the stretched cloth), uneasiness, or anxiety.

Example: “I was on tenterhooks over whether or not the deal would go through.”

8. “Runner ups.” There are no “runner ups” for the position you were looking to fill (or for the title of Miss Penitentiary [yes, it really is a thing. In Brazil!]). There are “runners up.” The contestants/subjects are the runners. Not the ups.

9. “Nip it in the butt.” I’ve never heard this one used as such, again. But I’m informed by the internet that it’s a common error.

A puppy might nip you in the butt. What we want to do when using this phrase is stop something before it gets out of hand, or de-bud the plant before the flower grows. Or, to be specific “nip it in the bud.”

Example: “There’s some office gossip about you and the CEO at the holiday party going around. If I were you I’d want to nip it in the bud.”

10. “Irregardless.” While this is a word (and it’s not even that, really), rather than a phrase, it’s worth noting for its rampant usage. No matter how many, or how loudly, people rail against it, “irregardless” will continue to rear its ugly head.

Here’s the thing: To “regard” means “to pay attention to” while the suffix “less” means “without.” So, “regard” + “less” = “regardless,” which means “without paying attention to” or “despite.”

The prefix “ir” is added to negate a word, to mean “not.” Therefore “ir” + “regardless” = “irregardless” or “not without paying attention to” or, in other words, “factoring in.”

Whatever it is you think you’re factoring out, you’re actually factoring in.

“Irregardless what the boss thinks…” actually means “Taking into account what the boss thinks…”

What I’m trying to say is that the word you want is “regardless.”

Got it?

What phrases do you regularly hear people get wrong?


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  • Simon Cohen

    “Jibe with” has always made sense to me as a sailing term. When you jibe, you’re altering the boat’s course, across the path of the wind so that you can be on the most favourable side for your intended heading. So, assuming that the person you are talking to is taking a position that might be contrary to, or at least unaligned with your own, you change your position to jibe with theirs. It’s amazing how many of our popular expressions come from nautical terms. One of my faves is to “plumb the depths” :-)

    • Ruth Elizabeth Bromstein

      Oh…I see.

      • Simon Cohen

        Great article BTW – you nailed at least 5 of my top pet peeves. Some others:

        “Literally” when someone means “figuratively” – saw this yesterday in an article about how Starbucks will start paying for employees’ education. http://www.techinvestornews.com/Tech-News/Tech-Bloggers/starbucks-will-send-its-employees-to-college-for-free-report-says

        The writer declared that, “People working at Starbucks just got a lot smarter, literally.” I’m not even sure if they just got a lot smarter figuratively!

        • cath

          This one used to bug me, but I’ve gotten over it. It doesn’t actually mean “figuratively,” it’s an intensifier (like “really” or “very much,” etc.) that is used with figurative expressions. It’s a kind of hyperbole, as in “this figurative expression was so true of me/them/the situation that it actually became literal” (which of course, happened only figuratively). In essence, “literally” is being used figuratively.

          • Simon Cohen

            Ha! The saddest part about this particular example is that if enough people use an expression incorrectly, an authority like the OED will eventually sanction that use: http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/literally Which proves that even if two wrongs don’t make a right, several millions wrongs can change a language.

    • David Lloyd-Jones

      Simon,

      Not bad, but methinks gybe, to harmonise, is more likely.

      Cheers,

      -dlj.

      • Simon Cohen

        Hi David, “jibe” and “gybe” are different spellings of the same word. We colonials tend to prefer “i” over “y” as in “tire” vs. “tyre” ;-)

  • LittleT

    There are so many to add to this list!
    -Saying something has become a “mute point”. No, it’s a moot point.
    -Blaming someone as an “escape goat”. Not quite – a scape goat.
    -One fowl swoop: one fell swoop
    -Giving someone “leadway”: leeway
    -Saying you “should of” done something. No, you should have.
    -Beckon call: beck and call
    -Taken for granite: taken for granted
    -Fall by the waste side: fall by the wayside
    -Statue of limitations: statute of limitations
    -Make due with something: make do
    -Peek my interest: pique my interest

    • LalloFlingo

      Good job! Stupidity abounds. ;-)

    • Olive D

      That’s a very good compilation. Each one a molar-grinder.

    • Simon Cohen

      Bravo!

  • Emma Cohen

    I appreciate this article but would have preferred to see the correct phrases in bold rather than the incorrect phrases for easier skimming.

    • Ruth Elizabeth Bromstein

      Yes but this way I made you read the whole thing!

    • LalloFlingo

      I think you’re being a bit picky, Emma. And Ruth is right. Or, write, Or, rite. I’m not sure …

  • Mike Walmsley

    Great observations! I think that in general people get lazy with language……..
    One term I really dislike, although I don’t think it,s wrong is “Segway.” As in, “I am going to use this phrase to Segway into the next topic.”
    Little T, some great phrases there!

    • jordan684

      I think the word is spelled “seque” – in Italian it means “follows”

      • David Lloyd-Jones

        Jordan,

        Wrong. Remember, Google and Wiki beat Smith and Wesson any time you’ve got a second to spare.

        But I have good news for you: Six or eight Republican candidates are hiring, and they like people who make stuff up out of thin air.

        -dlj.

    • jordan684

      oh duh, it’s spelled “segue” – no “q” :)

      • Mike Walmsley

        @Jordan, the term you used “segue” is a term used in music and I specifically put “/” around it to denote the irregularity of the word…. duh!

  • Cathy Booth-Smith

    Also, saying her or him when it should be she or he. For example: Her and her son when to the store yesterday. This should be: She and her son went… Why? Remove ” “and her son” from the sentence and it should still sound correct. Her went to the store yesterday. No, she went to the store yesterday. Her son went to the store yesterday. She and her son went to the store yesterday. Sure, it’s not a phrase that has been misheard or misused, but it’s still a problem.

  • http://rambleonalot.wordpress.com Emily Brewes

    My friend’s former boss has said the following:
    “It’s just not tangible at this time” (I think he meant feasible)
    “labtop bags” (laptop)
    “I just can’t phantom that” (fathom… he meant fathom)
    If you want some great examples of these kinds of mistakes, check out the YouTube series Your Grammar Sucks (YGS). There are some truly epic language fails out there.

  • http://about.me/davidalangay David Gay

    Judas Priest song came into my head when I read “3. “You’ve got another thing coming.” “

  • LalloFlingo

    Oh goodie! A chance to sound off on this topic. One that bugs the daylights out of me is the misuse of “exasperate” when what the person really means is “exacerbate”. Gets me every time! Have fun, folks.

  • Kelley Hirst

    You forgot to “ax someone a question” or my personal favorite–”Spanish Flamingo Dancers” (Flamenco Dancers)

    • Rob

      Great one Kelley. I hear this one all the time and it drives me crazy. Read your other comments and I for one prefer to work with or for someone who is confident in their direction and abilities. It inspires me, and others too I’m sure to be great. No need to worry about being a “Bossy Pants” Woman.

  • James

    For #3 I’ve only heard “You’ve got another thought coming”, which could be a modernized version I guess.
    Also good: “lost litre” for “loss leader”

  • Deborah Milton

    This one really bugs me. Online (and print for that matter) organizations who deal with sewing have adopted the made-up word “sewist” instead of “sewer”, apparently because they think sewers don’t want to be associated with sewage operations. I’ve never heard anything quite so ridiculous in my life!

    • Bobby Monson Douglas

      Why not seamstress?

      • Deborah Milton

        Because the word covers quilters, crafters etc., not just seamstresses (that word covers people who sew clothing.).

  • Kathleen Saville

    How about “seen”. This is my pet peeve, when people say “Oh, I seen him yesterday”. No, no, no!!! It’s saw – “I saw him yesterday”. Drives me crazy.

  • Zabber

    I get particularly annoyed by…’Ekcetera’. There is no ‘k’ in ‘et cetera’.

  • Randy

    I love languages and English is the most complicated and in my opinion, the best. I looked online for the etymology of jive and jibe according to one website jive is a mistake dating from 1943 and jibe was the correct version dating from 1813, a nautical reference as Mr. Cohen suspected see: http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=jive and http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=jibe&allowed_in_frame=0

  • saz

    I can’t stand people who say “pacific” instead of specific or “expresso” when it should be espresso.

  • Olive D

    Just the other day I saw some guy write, “He wouldn’t higher me because I was over-qualified.” I suspected that wasn’t the reason. If his resumé followed suit, I wouldn’t have “highered” him either.

  • Patrick Stuurman

    I hate the use of the word “reasonableness”. There is no such word; correct usage is “reasonability”.

    • Oldcamerman

      Where did you get that from about the word reasonableness : “there is no such word”? It is found in every dictionary I looked in including Oxford.

      • David Lloyd-Jones

        Phoney correctness: Patrick is a Mrs. Grundy, and his inane “reasonability” is a Mrs. Grundyism.

        The word probably has a good use and correct meaning, in an extremely rare event: one wants to talk about a complicated contruction being computable or not. Still, reasonable person would probably say “computable” or perhaps “tractable” in such a case.

        -dlj.

  • AngiePangie

    If I would have….aaagh
    He should have came/went/drank/sang….all very common in these parts

    • Roustam

      You are hired for top manager!:)

      • AngiePangie

        Hey thanks, Roustam!

  • Oldcamerman

    Well done article.

    In a slightly different vane (oops vein) there are some very noticeable mispronunciations by people who should know better. There apparently is a mysterious job position which is called seketary. (secretary?) I’ve heard this countless times even by CEOs and news commentators. Any other glaring mispronunciations that you can think of?

  • AngiePangie

    How about ‘mispronownciation?

  • AngiePangie

    Or height-th?

  • Truthsayer42

    On occasion, I like to porpoisely use the incorrect phrase or words just to irritate others. My buddy and I often do this together just to bother our wives! But at this point, or at this time, but not at this point in time (redundant), for formal correspondence, I try to keep it write! :)

  • Mike Walmsley

    A very good reference check is Michael Swan’s Practical English Usage, from Oxford Press. So many of these examples are just bad grammar

    • AngiePangie

      You’re right Mike. I’m off topic and venting, but I just can’t help myself!

  • Roustam

    If I were an employer I wouldn’t appreciate if the candidate for one or another position makes habit of using the phrase “Who cares”

  • AngiePangie

    If I would of went there, which I won’t go in a million years, the grammar police would of came and arrested me.

    • Bruce Nesbit

      AngiePangie….. “would’ve; could’ve and should’ve” are abbreviations of “would have; could have and should have” NOT “would of; could of and should of”.

      I’m an Australian or “Aussie” – pronounced “Ozzy” NOT “Ossy” as some Americans tend to do. We Aussies often make fun of the way some Americans “murder” the English language, HOWEVER I do have some pet peeves with the way many Aussies speak too.

      I really cringe when I hear some of us say “anythink; somethink; nothink or everythink”!
      Can anyone tell me if this is peculiar to just my country OR do you Americans say it as well?

      I am intrigued that so many Americans pronounce “second” as “secont” OR “secot”.
      Can anybody explain this?

      Also there is no “y” or”w” in “Australia” or “millionaire”…. Again it really irks me when I hear “Austraya” or “Austraywlya OR “mooyonair” OR “miwwyonaire”!

      Then we hear “arks” instead of “ask” and “pacific” instead of “specific”.
      “Stastistic” for “statistic”.

  • Linda Sauer

    It should be “what phrases do you regularly hear people getting
    wrong”, not “get wrong”

  • Linda Sauer

    Recently the Kitchener-Waterloo Record had someone “plumbing the “heights’”. Would like to know how they think someone is going to plumb “up”. The less/fewer mistake is really annoying. When did we start saying pleaded guilty? Did one readed the book yesterday?

  • David Lloyd-Jones

    Elizabeth

    Good work. Instead of the usual flying prune, accept, please, this plum, and keep the silver salver.

    …and an oxymoron is not a contradiction. Quite the opposite, an oxymoron is a phrase having a new meaning made out of the union of two apparent opposites. Bittersweet, which is neither bitter, nor sweet, is the traditional example.

    The other word that re-entered American English at the same time and by the same route, two Time-Life guys drinking in Hurleys, is lagniappe. Here the oddity is that it is generally used correctly, to mean a freebie.

    Before it vanished from use, back in the late 1800′s it was used falsely, for the hard roll you were served automatically when you sat down in a New Orleans oyster house. You were supposed to think it was free, but it cost you a nickel or someplaces a quarter, whether you wanted it or not.

    Etymologically (not “entomologically,” that’s bugs, think ants) it is probably based on the Quechua word yapa meaning “something added, a gift. This makes it a rarity, something we didn’t ruin from the American natives.

    Granny Grammar
    Prune-Faced Grammarian.