My friend/editor Sharon sent me an article titled ’43 Embarrassing Grammar Mistakes Even Smart People Make’. I’ve become complacent about these lists– Velma says smug. Most of the usual suspects were there, but to my surprise, I found a couple I hadn’t given thought to.
Unthawing Foreign Relations
One was the word unthaw. I’ve heard others use it without setting off my grammar alarm. I don’t think I’ve used it, but now it’s on my radar. To unthaw literally means to freeze. Yikes!
Emigrate (which I’ve included in the list below with immigrate) requires the preposition ‘from’, although we can optionally include the destination ‘to’. Likewise, immigrate necessitates the preposition ‘to’, although we may choose to include ‘from’. For example,
- She immigrated to Canada (from Angola).
- She emigrated from Angola (to Canada).
I’ve long been nonplussed and dismayed and, yes, gobsmacked that the Oxford English Dictionary insists that silly Americans misuse ‘nonplussed’ (surprised) to mean its opposite (unperturbed). In my unscientific polls amongst uneducated citizenry, I’ve met only one person who hit upon the wrong meaning, but admitted he didn’t actually know what the word meant. Chew on that, OED!
|juvenile flounder © Wikipedia|
|mature flounder © Wikipedia|
Bagging the Question
I attended a Latin school where rhetoric, logic, and debate were taught. One of the trickier concepts to master was ‘beg the question’, which assumes an assertion as fact without laying the foundation for it. I’ve notice more commentators and newscasters using ‘beg the question’ to mean ‘ask the question’, including the acme of academia, the world-renown BBC. Recalling my schoolhood efforts to pin down the original concept, I have some sympathy for those without the benefit of rhetoric, logic, and debate, but I recommend avoiding the phrase altogether. Eschew on that, Miss Arthur!
À propos of nothing, my Aunt Rae noted the difference between prostitute and prostrate was the difference between a fallen lady versus one who temporarily lost her balance. And then we have the serious matter of prostate. If nothing else manages to kill a man, his prostate will!
How to Catch a Flounder (without Baited Breath)
Too often when people speak of a person or project that stumbles or sinks, they say it ‘flounders’ (a fish) instead of ‘founders’. This particular fish is unusual. When it’s young, it swims upright like most other fish. But when it matures, it sinks into the bottom, blending in with the sea floor. There it performs a slow-motion magic trick, distorting its own head and body to suit its environment. Its eyes migrate to the new upper surface and its mouth usually twists in the opposite direction. It may look like it’s about to founder, but it’s only a flounder.
50+ Often Misused Words and Non-Words
|Words in the left column of this first group aren’t necessarily wrong. They bear review because they’re often confused with those in the right column.|
|adopt (take up, take on, assume)||adapt (change to meet conditions)|
|adverse (unfavorable)||averse (opposed to)|
|bemused (confused)||amused (entertained)|
|disinterested (impartial)||uninterested (uncaring)|
|enormity (evil, wickedness)||enormous (huge)|
|flounder (a fish)||founder (break down, sink)|
|i.e. (id est: that is)||e.g. (exempli gratia: for example)|
|infer (deduce)||imply (intimate)|
|inflammable (burnable)||nonflammable (not burnable)|
|jive (dance, talk)||jibe (match)|
|literally (actually)||figuratively (metaphorically)|
|nauseous (sickening)||nauseated (sickened)|
|prostrate (prone)||prostate (gland)|
|review (examine, reassess)||revue (theatrical entertainment)|
|sympathy (understanding)||empathy (intuiting another’s feelings)|
|trooper (soldier, state police)||trouper (persist uncomplainingly)|
|under way (moving along, travelling)||under weigh (lifting anchor)|
|its (possessive)||it's (contraction: it is)|
|Smith’s (possessive)||Smiths (collective noun)|
|VIPs (plural)||‘A’s and ‘B’s (plural)|
|1960’s (possessive)||1960s (era, decade)|
|These phrases concern superfluous wording, excess verbiage that add nothing and dull their sentences. I’ve probably used “tenth-year anniversary” without realizing it.|
|first-year anniversary ✘||first anniversary|
|hot water heater ✘||water heater|
|red in color ✘||red|
|large in size ✘||large|
|political in nature ✘||political|
|Discussed above, these two words require certain prepositions. Emigrate implies leaving one’s country and generally requires ‘from’, especially if ‘to’ is present. Immigrate implies entering a new residency and requires the target ‘to’, particularly if ‘from’ appears. Some uses require no prepositions at all: “He plans to emigrate.”|
|emigrated to ✘||emigrated from|
|immigrate from ✘||immigrate to|
|The following common nonsensical words and incorrect phrases include misspellings and misunderstandings. That said, many of us would like to apply “nipped in the butt” from time to time.|
|baited breath ✘||bated breath|
|boldface lie ✘||baldface lie|
|chalk full ✘||chock full|
|chock it up ✘||chalk it up|
|could care less ✘||couldn’t care less|
|do diligence ✘||due diligence|
|extract revenge ✘||exact revenge|
|free reign ✘||free rein|
|honed in on ✘||homed in on|
|make due ✘||make do|
|mute issue/point/question ✘||moot|
|nip in the butt ✘||nip in the bud|
|peak my interest ✘||pique my interest|
|per say ✘||per se|
|piece of mind ✘||peace of mind|
|should of, would of ✘||should have, would have|
|slight of hand ✘||sleight of hand|
|sneak peak ✘||sneak peek|
|through the ringer ✘||through the wringer|
|tie me over ✘||tide me over|
|tow the line ✘||toe the line|
|wet the appetite ✘||whet the appetite|
|worse comes to worse ✘||worse comes to worst|
Do you find any of these troublesome?
What addition would you make?