Posted by: Jack Henry | February 20, 2020

Editor’s Corner: Misused Words and Phrases

Good morning! A while back I came across a list of frequently misused words and phrases, and I thought it would be helpful to share them because some of them are pretty common. I did not compile the list myself; it comes from

I know we’ve covered a couple of these before, but most of them are new, and I found the explanations useful (although a little too snarky).

If you want to read the entire article, click here. Read on and write on!


I’ve heard a lot of bright people say this nonsense word, which results from confusing and combining regardless and irrespective. If people would just think about it, what’s that dopey ir- doing tacked on? In technical terms, ir- is an “initial negative particle.” So, if irregardless means anything, it means not regardless when its hapless speaker is trying to say the exact opposite.

Center around

“The whole play centers around the consequences of ill-gotten gains.”This common, misbegotten expression results from the unhappy union of two similar terms: center on and revolve around. Because the phrases are roughly synonymous, if you use them both enough, they merge in the mind. What’s annoying about center around is that it’s imprecise, and disheartens readers who take writing seriously. The center is the point in the middle. How, exactly, would something center around? You get dizzy trying to picture it.

Hone in

This is another mongrel, like the two that preceded it. It’s the brain-dead combo of hone and home in. We simply can’t allow confusion to be the basis of acceptable changes in the language. In recent years, hone in has achieved an undeserved legitimacy for the worst of reasons: the similarity, in sound and appearance, of n and m. Honing is a technique used for sharpening cutting tools and the like. To home in, like zero in, is to get something firmly in your sights: get to the crux of a problem.


This trendy word properly means uncommunicative, reserved, silent. But sophisticates who like to fancy up their mundane blather are now using it when they mean reluctant. “I was reticent to spend so much on a football game.” When I hear something like that, I wish the speaker would just reticent the heck up.


Allude to means mention indirectly. In one of its most unspeakable moves, Webster’s lists refer as a synonym. Horrors! When you refer to something, it’s a direct transaction: “I refer to Section II, paragraph one, Your Honor.” When you allude to something or someone, you don’t come out and say it; you’re being subtle, sly or sneaky: “Someone I know better wise up.”

Off (of)

“Hey! You! Get off of my cloud,” sang the Rolling Stones, unnecessarily. The of is extraneous, and off of is what’s known as a pleonasm. That means: starting now, avoid it.

Couple (of)

“Hey, gimme a couple bucks, wouldja?” When I was a kid, this is how neighborhood tough guys talked, while cracking their chewing gum. Don’t drop the of; one more little syllable won’t kill you. [dbb – So, we’re supposed to omit “of” from the phrase “off of” but keep it in the phrase “couple of.” Why? Well, first off, many sources say it’s OK to just say “a couple”
(without “of”), but they say this choice is more informal. The explanation given is that you would say “I’d like a pair of earrings” not “I’d like a pair earrings,” and “couple,” like “pair,” means “two of something considered together.” The experts advise
that we use “couple of” in professional writing but that omitting “of” is not a serious usage error in everyday speech and writing.]

Donna Bradley Burcher | Senior Technical Editor | Symitar®

8985 Balboa Ave. | San Diego, CA 92123 | Ph. 619.278.0432 | Ext: 765432

About Editor’s Corner

Editor’s Corner keeps your communication skills sharp by providing information on grammar, punctuation, JHA style, and all things English. As editors, we spend our days reading, researching, and revising other people’s writing. We love to spend a few extra minutes to share what we learn with you and keep it fun while we’re doing it.

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  1. Don’t know if you folks have spoken to this one yet, but today’s authors, and therefore editors and proofreaders, seem to think that as the past tense of the word “read” is “read,” the past tense of the word “lead” should be “lead,” not “led.” “Lead” is a metal.

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