Commonly Misunderstood/Misused Words or Phrases

Fondle is another word I dislike. It sounds sleazy.

Ooops. Wrong thread.

I was just reading a post on here where someone used the term “hail and hearty.” What they need to know is that it’s “hale,” which means free from infirmity or illness.

In the spirit of this thread I would like to point out that you would have a hard time hitting the roof by travelling up. You hit the ceiling that way. A careless skydiver has a better chance of hitting the roof.

Huh. I read “head” for “hand,” and was picturing a suspended rope indoors. Never mind.

I’m not sure if this counts as a misuse, or just a misspelling, but would you please remind them that the past tense of the verb “to lead” is led and that “lead” is a metal?

Oh, and since they are, after all, college freshmen, it might serve them well to let them know that the phrase is “party hearty” rather than “hardy”.

Deja View. The feeling that you’ve viewed this thread before (and recently at that!).
This is as good a place as any to ask: when agreeing with someone and wishing to echo their sentiment and/or draw attention to it, what is the correct usage?

Hear here
Here here
Hear hear

I’m partial to the first one, but if you think about each one, they’re all sort of applicable.

“The people were evacuated before the hurricane hit.”

The *people * were evacuated?! :eek: So did they suck out their guts with a vacuum cleaner?

What they should say is, “The area was evacuated before the hurricane hit.”
“The data *was * analyzed.”

No, the data were analyzed.
“After we added some weight, the oscillations were heavily dampened.”

What he should have said was, “After we added some weight, the oscillations were heavily damped.”
“Before I shot my M14, I loaded the clip with bullets.”

No, you loaded it with cartridges. And it’s not a clip… it’s a magazine.
And this one is more of a pet-peeve:

“I’m done doing my chores.”

No, you’re *finished * doing your chores… :wink:

Recently someone, I’n fairly sure it was lissener, pointed out in a thread that epitome does not mean an outstanding example of something but rather a prototype: a standard or typical example. I thought, “What an idiot,” looked it up and discovered that lissener was correct. Arrogant though it may be, I was so surprised at being wrong that I have been asking people since what epitome means. Not one person has got it right.

Recently I saw a major newspaper headline referring to The vicious underbelly of …. I laughed out loud as I understand underbelly to mean “weak or unprotected”. However a Google search found 189 uses in various forms. I don’t know what people think they are saying.

I get annoyed when people say “physical year” when they mean “fiscal year”.

“Literally” is becoming used to mean “figuratively”? Only if you’re talking about its becoming over the course of the past three centuries. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing :).

My pet peeve is the common misunderstanding that English is a computer programming language, with no room for wordplay, sleight of tongue, imagery, humor, or sarcasm. English is a wonderful, rich, contradictory, subtle language that recognizes sometimes p^~p is true and derives tremendous value from it. If you see the priests in black gowns making their rounds, it’s time to get out of Dodge.

“Unique” can certainly be comparative. Asheville has got a unique restaurant, Spirits on the River, that serves Native American food. It is unique by virtue of being the only Native-America-food restaurant in town. If a new restaurant moves in, Babies on the Rotisserie, then it will be more unique by virtue of being the only restaurant in the world that serves rotisserie-style infants. It is bizarre to deny the word this perfectly reasonable distinction and modifier: denying it does not serve the language, does not clarify anything, and does not even cleave to logical reasons (although it certainly is cloven from them).


From a recent article in The Times:

You’re fighting a losing battle on that one.

Perhaps they were confused by a gift of a laurel, and hearty handshake?

soulmurk, the official Straight Dope position is that it’s “hear hear.”

It isn’t different than but different from.

And you don’t wreck havoc, you wreak havoc.

But I swear, if you take it to
you might, as I did, hear “beak” and “beck” sounded out.

Try it if you don’t believe me.

One is interred at the cemetary, after the funeral.

One is interned in a POW camp, by the enemy.

You can have less of something like milk or sand; if it is something like cars or paper clips you have fewer.

A common one in this area is mistaking a moot point as a mute point. The speaker erroneously assumes that the point is “mute” in that it doesn’t speak to the discussion, rather than understanding what “moot” means.

Please let your students know it is the floodplain, not the floodplane.

Oh, I left out one of my Most Hated[sup]TM[/sup]:

It’s reckless driving, not wreckless driving. Come on, now!

No, you’re interred at the cemetery.

I can’t believe that I just read a post where somebody described their hair turning to ice sickles. I have to hope the person was having a brain fart, and not that they have never seen the word icicles.

Ignorance should be fought. If a kind word fails, then sharp sticks are good.

Two of my all-time favorites:

  1. Meteoric - Usually used to imply a fast-rising career or something. Hey, guess what, meteors do not rise, they fall. This is, in fact, the very definition of meteor. If it’s in deep space, it is a meteoroid, if it is on the ground, it is a meteorite. Only while falling through the earth’s atmosphere is it a meteor.
  2. Decimated - You lose one out of ten, that is, a 10% destruction rate. From a Roman term, where, I think, they killed one out of ten of their enemies. A ten percent rate of destruction is, usually, not bad. However, it is usually used to mean that something was almost completely destroyed.