Are you saying that right?

Misunderstanding common sayings
By Alex Burden, Student Blog

11 July 2016

Every once in a while, we are all guilty of a bit of malapropism. That has nothing to do with props, and simply translates as using an incorrect word that sounds similar to the one you intended.

The practice has also been referred to as Dogberryism, after the character of the same name in Much Ado about Nothing; he often confuses words, such as auspicious and suspicious. One of the most famous examples of everyday use of malaprops is former president George W. Bush: hostile / hostage, tenants / tenets, and preserve / persevere.

We asked our tutors about the common words they see in everyday life:

"Less or fewer is a common misunderstanding," cites Duncan McKellar. "Fewer should be used with things which can be counted and less with things that cannot be counted. For example, there are fewer students than usual in class today, or the class is less crowded than usual."

Tutor Jennifer Cloke emphasised the commonly misspelled word 'your' with 'you’re': it's not technically a malapropism, but frequently confused. For example, it's your car (belonging), not ‘you are (you're) car’.

The English language is complex, even for those who fluently speak it, so we’ve compiled a handy list of easily-confused words and what to avoid.

Misused

Correct

Explanation

Adverse

Averse

You can have an adverse (bad) reaction, and be averse to an event (not going). What is confusing, however, is that even Microsoft Word describes ‘adverse’ as meaning opposing rather than unfavourable.

Another thing

Another think

We have never had another thing coming. But you may have had another ‘think coming’. Very commonly misused

Appraise

Apprise

You can appraise (value) a house, and then apprise (tell) someone of that information

Bemused

Amused

Confused versus entertained!

Case and point

Case in point

You are referring to the point through an example (case), not a case and a point

Circumvent

Circumnavigate

Avoid versus orbit

Change tact

Change tack

You can’t change your sensitivity (tact), but you can change course (tack)

Criteria

Criterion

Collection of principles and a principle.

Depreciating

Deprecating

Do you mean devaluing or derogatory?

Dichotomy

Discrepancy

Division into two groups and inconsistency

Extract

Exact

You can extract oil, and exact revenge

Hone

Home

You home in on something, you hone skills (honing originally coming from the phrase to sharpen with a whetstone)

Intensive purposes

Intents and purposes

The latter actually means in ‘all practical ways’

Mute

Moot

Silence versus debatable

Peak or peek

Pique

Top of the mountain or looking at something, versus arousing interest

Phased

Fazed

Carry out in stages as opposed to being deterred

Proscribe

Prescribe

Condemn versus to recommend

Should of

Should have

Preposition versus a verb. Of is used to express relationships between something, whereas have is used for actions. I should have eaten that sandwich. Ten per cent of 100 is ten.

Seed change

Sea change

The latter means a noble transformation. The former means nothing, unless you are picking a new diet for your pet budgie

Specifically

Pacifically

Clue – the second word does not exist

Statue

Statute

One is a stone figure, the other is a law

Suppository

Repository

Do you mean a medical preparation or a container?

Tender

Tenter

As in ‘on tenterhooks’: there is no such thing as a tender hook

   

More disputed usage

Fancy even more? Check out the Independent’s guide to commonly misused words and phrases. Wikipedia has a guide to all the various words that are misused on their website.

Topics

  • CA Student blog

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