Posted by: episystechpubs | March 19, 2015

Editor’s Corner: Misused Phrases, Part 1

Several people sent this article to me yesterday (20 Common Phrases Even the Smartest People Misuse)

and I thought I’d pass the information along. I can’t say I’ve heard the first one misused at work, but I have had questions about many of the other phrases.

In general, it’s good policy to avoid clichés and idiomatic phrases in your writing. This is particularly true when communicating with people who speak and read English as a second language.

Thank you to those of you who sent these in!

(For the sake of time and space, I’ll be sending these out in a few installments. Note that the bolded phrase is incorrect. The correct phrase is included in the description.)

· Prostrate Cancer

It’s an easy misspelling to make—just add an extra r and “prostate cancer” becomes “prostrate cancer,” which suggests “a cancer of lying face-down on the ground.” Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Mayo Clinic websites include this misspelling.

· First-Come, First-Serve

This suggests that the first person to arrive has to serve all who follow. The actual phrase is “first-come, first-served,” to indicate that the participants will be served in the order in which they arrive. Both Harvard and Yale got this one wrong.

· Sneak Peak

A “peak” is a mountain top. A “peek” is a quick look. The correct expression is “sneak peek,” meaning a secret or early look at something. This error appeared on Oxford University’s site as well as that of the National Park Service.

· Deep-Seeded

This should be “deep-seated,” to indicate that something is firmly established. Though “deep-seeded” might seem to make sense, indicating that something is planted deep in the ground, this is not the correct expression. Correctica found this error on the Washington Post and the White House websites.

· Extract Revenge

To “extract” something is to remove it, like a tooth. The correct expression is “exact revenge,” meaning to achieve revenge. Both The New York Times and the BBC have made this error.

· I Could Care Less

“I couldn’t care less” is what you would say to express maximum apathy toward a situation. Basically you’re saying, “It’s impossible for me to care less about this because I have no more care to give. I’ve run out of care.” Using the incorrect “I could care less” indicates that “I still have care left to give—would you like some?”

· Shoe-In

“Shoo-in” is a common idiom that means a sure winner. To “shoo” something is to urge it in a direction. As you would shoo a fly out of your house, you could also shoo someone toward victory. The expression started in the early 20th century, relating to horse racing and broadened to politics soon after. It’s easy to see why the “shoe-in” version is so common, as it suggests the door-to-door sales practice of moving a foot into the doorway to make it more difficult for a prospective client to close the door. But “foot in the door” is an entirely different idiom.

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

619-542-6773 | Ext: 766773

www.symitar.com

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