Language is always evolving, growing and changing. We're always inventing new slang words, borrowing words from around the world when our language lacks the precise vocabulary, and using words in different ways than they were originally intended to be used.
While people misuse single words like "conversate" or "humbled" all the time, there are also whole phrases that most folks aren't using right either. Some people mistakenly swap out words that sound alike, a slip-up known as an eggcorn. If you've never heard a new or confusing word before, such as "acorn," your mind will automatically fill it in with what seems like a logical alternative.
On other occasions, people overlook grammar rules and inadvertently change the entire meaning of a popular saying. These expressions and idioms are part of everyday life, and yet even native English speakers use them incorrectly.
Here are 22 (incorrect) phrases that most people might be surprised to learn that they've been using wrong for years.
'I could care less'
A simple negative like "not" changes the entire meaning of a sentence. That's why it's crucial in the phrase "I couldn't care less." If you are not capable of caring less, it's because you already care the least. "I could care less" on the other hand means you actually do care somewhat, because there's room for you to be able to care less.
'I plead the Fifth'
The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution includes the provision that a person can opt to not testify or give incriminating information about themselves. So to "take the Fifth" means refusing to answer a question because the answers might be harmful. This phrase often gets muddled however by people attempting to throw in some more legal jargon. In court, you "plead" guilty or not guilty, but in a legal sense, you'd never say "I plead the Fifth."
'Mano a mano'
This might come as a surprise, but "mano a mano" doesn't mean "man to man." Although many English speakers incorrectly use this phrase that way, "mano a mano" is Spanish for "hand to hand." So if you want to settle something "mano a mano," it means you're ready to throw down in a fistfight.
'Slight of hand'
While the movements of a magicians may be small and subtle, it's not "slight of hand" but rather "sleight of hand." "Sleight" means dexterity or skill.
'You've got another thing coming'
This one might be news to you, but the common expression "you've got another thing coming" is incorrect. Despite being the more common version of the phrase, Americans corrupted the original British expression "you've got another think coming" with the sound-alike eggcorn "thing." To have "another think coming" means that your opinion is incorrect and you'd better think about it again.
This one has been so misused over the years that the incorrect version has become more common and accepted, to the point that there was actually a game show with this title. When someone is particularly skilled at card games, you might call them a "card shark." But the original expression was actually "card sharp" as in "sharp-shooter" or a "sharp wit." A "sharp" used to mean someone who used their wits and cunning to cheat people, so a "card sharp" was someone who cheated at cards.
'For all intensive purposes'
No need to make things intense when misusing this common phrase. The expression is "for all intents and purposes," meaning that one thing has the same effect or result as something else. "Intent" is the will or state of mind behind an action.
'Do a 360'
There are 360 degrees in a circle, so to turn 360 degrees means to spin in a complete circle and end up at the place you started. People often mistakenly use the number 360 when they mean "do a 180," which means to turn around and head in or face the opposite direction.
If you have more than one "runner-up" in a race, it might be tempting to be the "s" on the end and say "runner-ups" but that's not grammatically correct. If you think of having more than one runner in a race, or multiple runners who are next up behind the winner, then you can remember the correct plural is "runners-up."
'Nip it in the butt'
Why would you want to pinch someone's backside in order to stop a problem while it's small? Many people mishear the phrase "nip it in the bud" as "nip it in the butt." The bud is a first part of a plant's flower or shoot to appear, and if you cut it while it's small, it will prevent it from growing.
'Wet your appetite'
While people can salivate at the sight or smell of delicious food, the phrase isn't to "wet your appetite." To whet something means to sharpen, excite or stimulate, so when the smell of freshly baked cookies or cheesy pizza makes you hungry, what the food has done is "whet your appetite."
'Waiting on someone'
This one might seem nitpicky, but if you're waiting on someone, you're their server or service provider. If you're waiting for someone, you're waiting for them to arrive.
The original expression is to "home in" on something, meaning to find and move directly toward something. Since the 1960s, however, Americans have been misusing this expression, subbing in the word "hone" for "home." Hone means to sharpen a skill or focus, so the expression's meaning still works in some sense with the incorrect word.
The jive is a swing or rock 'n' roll dance move, so it makes some sense that if you get along with someone, that you'd be able to dance well together. But the expression for finding yourself in agreement with someone is actually "jibe with." To jibe is to be in accord.
While it's true that seeds do need to be planted deep in the ground sometimes to take root, if you're looking to explain something that's firmly established or strongly held, you're looking for the phrase "deep-seated." "Seat" can mean a place where something is centered or prevalent, such as a "seat of power."
'First come, first serve'
"First come, first serve" is one letter off from being correct. If you're the first to arrive, you're not the first one to serve others, but the first to be served. Thus, the expression is "first come, first served."
If you trying to pass on a responsibility or task you don't want to someone else, you might try to use the phrase "pawned off." But you should actually be saying "palmed off." While it make a bit of sense to be "pawning" or selling something you don't want, "palming" something means tricking someone else into doing it, as "palming" is what you do in sleight of hand card tricks.
"Scotch free" and "Scott free" are both common mishearings or misspellings of the phrase "to get off scot-free." The phrase means to get away with something without punishment. Though the expression originated in England, it doesn't refer to Scottish people or things. The "scot" was a English word for a tax or fee, so to "get off scot-free," meant to get away with something without paying a tax or penalty.
Goats don't have a cultural reputation as escape artists, but "escape" is a much more common word than "scape," so it's understandable why people mishear and then misuse the word "scapegoat" as a phrase. A "scapegoat" is someone who bears the blame or punishment for the faults of others.
While being hungry can indeed make you feel pain, the actual expression for when your stomach is rumbling is "hunger pangs." A "pang" is a sharp, short spasm of pain.
'In like Flint'
There are a few potential origins for the term "in like Flynn," which means "having quickly or easily gained access to something or achieved a goal," but the most commonly accepted one relates to the swashbuckling actor Errol Flynn (best known for his 1938 portrayal of Robin Hood), who was famously known for his womanizing. The term is not, however, "In like Flint," as many believe. That was a 1967 movie starring James Coburn, and its title is a play on the correct term.
Much like "anyways" and "worser," "irregardless" isn't a proper word, regardless of how you use it. That's because when people use it, they're incorrectly attempting to use the word "regardless." Unfortunately, it's misused so often, it's gained inclusion in dictionaries that dub it a "nonstandard" form of "regardless." And if you think that's weird, it's nothing compared to these weird slang phrases.
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