Posted by: Jack Henry | October 28, 2021

Editor’s Corner: Commonly Misused Idioms

Idioms are so useful and so good at getting a point across, but they are also often misused. Someone told me the other day that I should “nip it in the butt.” I laughed, but I can see why the person got it wrong. While the actual idiom is “nip it in the bud,” it makes sense either way.

Let’s start with a definition of idiom from Wikipedia: “An idiom is a common phrase which means something different from its literal meaning but can be understood because of popular use…Idioms are made of normal words that have a special meaning known to almost everyone.”

Like the mondegreens Kara sometimes shares (remember mondegreens are misheard song lyrics), misused idioms can be funny, but they can also be embarrassing to people who use them incorrectly—when either speaking or writing. So, to make sure you’re not embarrassed by using an incorrect idiom, I thought I’d share some of the most common ones. I gathered this partial list from a few different online resources.

Incorrect Correct
A blessing in the skies A blessing in disguise
Bare with me Bear with me [dbb – Bare means naked. Oops.]
Chomping at the bit Champing at the bit [dbb – Champing is what a horse does to the bit in its mouth.]
Complete 360-degree change Complete 180-degree change
Could care less Couldn’t care less
Deep seeded Deep seated
Do diligence Due diligence
Doggy dog world Dog eat dog world
Escaped goat Scape goat
For all intensive purposes For all intents and purposes
Getting off scotch free Getting off scot free [dbb – A scot is a tax payment.]
Hunger pains Hunger pangs [dbb – Pangs are brief and piercing.]
Jive with Jibe with [dbb – Jibe means agree.]
Peak my interest Pique my interest
Piece of mind Peace of mind
Pour over Pore over [dbb – Pore means to examine closely.]
Slight of hand Sleight of hand [dbb – Sleight means cunning.]
Statue of limitations Statute of limitations
Tow the line Toe the line [dbb – You put your toe on the starting line.]
Wet your appetite Whet your appetite [dbb – Whet
means to make keen or more acute.]

Have I piqued your interest? If you want to see more, check out this list of (mostly) different misused idioms I shared a few years back: 12 Idioms You Might be Getting Wrong.

Donna Bradley Burcher |Technical Editor, Advisory | Symitar®

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

Pronouns she/her/hers

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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