Unless you’re a genius, you’ve probably experienced the unfortunate situation of using an idiom, only to have someone you’re speaking to say wait, what? Idioms are one of the most fun features of a language and can tell you a lot about its speakers and their culture. However, idioms are often easy to mishear and, thus, misuse. Here are a few of the most commonly misused idioms in the English language, and what you should be saying instead.
- For all intensive purposes → for all intents and purposes
This is one of the most common mix-ups of all time. And it makes sense – it’s easy to mishear. But this idiom means for all possible purposes – i.e., for any and all intents and purposes. In a casual conversation, someone might not notice a flub, but be sure to be careful with your language when writing this idiom down.
- Could care less → couldn’t care less
This idiom is supposed to mean that you don’t care about someone. But if you say you “could care less” you’re actually saying you do care, at least a bit. Instead, be sure to say you couldn’t care less. That’ll get ‘em.
- Do a complete 360 → do a complete 180
Just think about a circle: going around 180 degrees leaves you facing in the opposite direction. On the other hand, going a full 360 puts you back right where you started. So unless you’re talking about getting stuck in a loop, make sure you’re doing a 180.
- Doggy-dog world → dog eat dog world
If you’re not familiar with the origins of this phrase, it makes sense that you might mishear this idiom. A “dog-eat-dog” world is a place that is aggressive and violent – enough so to inspire dogs to cannibalism.
- Chomping at the bit → Champing at the bit
This was surprised me, too. “Champing” is actually an early word for chomp which was used hundreds of years ago, when this idiom was first created.
- Mute point → moot point
The thought process behind this makes sense: a mute point sounds like a point that hasn’t been spoken aloud, and thus an irrelevant point. But in fact, a “moot” point has little relevance to your current situation – just like “muteness” has little relevance to this idiom.
- Deep-seeded → deep-seated
The correct form of this idiom is deep-seated, deriving from horseback riding and being “deep in the seat” when once is well-situated in the saddle.
- Another thing coming → another think coming
The longer version of this phrase says, “If that’s what you think, you’ve got another think coming.” Which makes a lot more sense than “another thing coming,” when you think about it.
- Sneak peak
A “peak” is the top of a mountain. I’m not sure how you can “sneak” off with the top of a hill. You want to sneak a “peek,” or glimpse at something.
- Beckon call → beck and call
A “beck” is someone’s physical gesture. So when your mom starts calling and waggling her hand, you know what to do.
- Without further adieu → without further ado
We’re not French. So it’s not without further “goodbye” – it’s without further dilly-dallying.
- Wreck havoc → wreak havoc
When you’re making a mess, you’re wrecking things, so it makes sense to think this idiom means to “wreck havoc.” However, the correct word is “wreak” meaning to cause.
- Getting off scotch free → getting off scot-free
Getting off scot-free means getting off without repercussions – which makes sense when you consider that a “scot” is an archaic term for tax payment. It’s less clear what it means to get off “scotch free.” Maybe it’s an idiom in the making – but right now, it’s meaningless, and that makes it incorrect.