30 Commonly Misused Idioms

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Guest Post By Cassandra Corwin | Program Manager | FCR


Have you ever made a snap judgment regarding a person’s education after hearing them misuse a common idiom or mispronounce a word? Don’t be too harsh. Statistics say that nearly all of us do it, including yours truly. I still catch myself saying “supposably,” instead of “supposedly.” I imagine that I have merged the words opposable and supposed to create a brand new, mutant word that may or may not grow thumbs.

While there is no doubt that proper grammar and spelling are of great importance, it is equally important to remember that just because someone makes mistakes when speaking or writing, it does not mean that they are sloppy or uneducated.  Perhaps they simply may not even know that what they are saying is incorrect. Instead of pointing fingers, let’s educate ourselves so that we don’t get caught making such errors! When it comes to customer service and business, sending out an e-mail riddled with typos and misused phrases can be like walking into a play and not knowing your lines or showing up to a meeting with your nylons tucked into your dress.

Without further ado (not adieu), here are 30 common phrases and idioms people often get wrong. How many of these are you guilty of?

  1. Peaked my interest = Piqued my interest: To “pique” means to incite, enliven or arouse. If you mean to say that something “peaked your interest,” you might be suggesting that your interest was taken to the highest level imaginable.
  2. Sneak Peak = Sneak peek: While we’re on this mountaintop of enlightenment, are you guilty of writing, “Sneak peak” when you really mean, “Sneak peek”?
  3. One in the same = One AND the same: One in the same would mean something was inside another— like a Russian Matryoshka, nesting doll. This phrase is supposed to mean that two things that could be separate are actually the same thing. Example: Clark Kent and Superman are one and the same.
  4. For all intensive purposes = For all intents and purposes: Unless your purposes are super intense, using the word intensive in this idiom is incorrect. This phrase originates from English law dating back to the 1500’s to mean “officially” or “effectively.”
  5. Wet your Appetite = Whet your appetite: Whet means to hone, sharpen, awaken.
  6. Slight of hand = Sleight of hand: This is because the word sleight means cunning, dexterity, deceptive. Think Magicians with their sinister jazz hands and trickery.
  7. First-come, first-serve= First-come, first-served: This suggests that the first person to arrive has to serve all the people who come in after them. Who would want to be first in line if that were the case? The actual phrase is “first-come, first-served.” This indicates that the participants will be served in the order in which they arrive. Take a number!
  8. Shoe-in = Shoo in: This is the phrase you would use when indicating that someone is a sure winner, not a shoe winner. Shoo is something you do to urge something in a direction, usually away from you, but in this usage, it means that they are shooed towards a winning position!
  9. Make due = Make do: We don’t have enough pizza to go around, but with all the extra bread sticks and some creativity, we will be able to make do.
  10. Do Diligence = Due diligence: While we’re on the subject of do vs. due, “due diligence” is a business and legal term that means you will investigate a person or business before signing a contract with or formally engaging in a business deal together.
  11. Piece of mind = Peace of mind: Meaning you will have tranquil thoughts and are free from worry. However, if you intend to give someone some harsh verbs laced with colorful adjectives, you would need to use the phrase, “I’ll give them a piece of my mind,” as in you intend to remove their peace and tranquility.
  12. Baited breath = Bated breath: If your breath smells like worms then you may have baited breath. The word bated comes from the verb, “abate” meaning to recede. This means that by “waiting with bated breath” you are holding your breath while waiting. Have you ever heard someone utter the phrase, “I won’t hold my breath?”
  13. I could care less = I couldn’t care less: This is what one would say to express the highest level of indifference possible regarding a situation. By properly using this idiom, one is essentially stating that, “It is impossible for me to care any less about this situation because I have no more cares to give. I’ve run out of care. I am the no Care Bear for this moment. The cares I have could divide by 0. This is not the care you are looking for. The care you have reached is no longer in service, please try back later.”
  14. Extract revenge = Exact revenge: The use of the word exact in this case means to accomplish.
  15. Deep-seeded = Deep-seated: The use of seated means that something is solidly in place.
  16. Doggy-dog world = Dog-eat-dog world: “Snoop Dawg” is all I hear when someone misuses this little phrase. Believe it or not, this phrase predates Snoop Dawg— by a lot! Roman scholar and writer Marcus Varro used it in 43 B.C. when stating that even a dog will not eat a dog. This phrase is used to define cut-throat behavior to get what one wants. Think Pirates!
  17. It’s a mute point = It’s a moot point: Unless your point can not speak, moot is the word you were looking for; moot meaning obsolete or irrelevant.
  18. Should of = Should have: Perhaps this started getting mis-spoken because of a variety of accents, but the correct way to write this out is should have, could have, and would have.
  19. Towards and Anyways: Did you know that neither of these words actually have an ‘s’ at the end of it? While we are at it, neither does Safeway. However, outside of the United States, adding an ‘s’ to toward is totally acceptable. Darn American English anyways.
  20. Case and point = Case in point: This is the phrase used for a specific example of what one is talking about.
  21. Nipping it in the butt = Nipping it in the bud: By nipping it in the bud, you are preventing the problem from flowering. No butt nipping, please.
  22. Irregardless = Regardless: Irregardless is not actually a word. Regardless means in spite of everything, no matter what.
  23. You have another thing coming = You have another think coming: As weird as it sounds, this is supposed to mean, you better think again. Thing = think. Try not to “overthing” this!
  24. Wreck havoc = Wreak havoc: The word wreak means to cause. The word havoc means chaos. Wreck havoc literally translates into chaos, destroying chaos. Unless you plan to divide by zero, you mean “wreak havoc.” I think of two super villains fighting each other until they implode.
  25. Hunger pains = Hunger pangs: Of all the misused phrases, this is the most forgivable offence and the most popular. I physically have pain when I am hungry and so do those around me.
  26. Escaped Goat= Scapegoat: A scapegoat is someone who is blamed for the problems of others that they may or may not be guilty of. Unless the person you want to blame isn’t a person, but in fact, an escaped goat, you mean to say “scapegoat”. Although, admittedly, I giggle profusely when I imagine someone riding off into the sunset on an escaped goat with 99 problems and grammar ain’t one.
  27. By in Large= By and Large: This means, in general, as in the general consensus.
  28. Suppose to / Use to= Supposed to / Used to: Adding the D at the end of each is correct.
  29. Pour over= Pore Over: If you pour over something, it’s bound to get wet. Poring means to examine closely.
  30. Tow the line= Toe the line: Remember lining up in gym class with your toes on the starting line? Me neither. I had a note.

Cassandra Corwin
Program Manager

Cassandra Corwin is a Program Manager at FCR where she has been with the company since 2009. She is an active promoter of the FCR culture which earned her the FCR 2014 “Keeper of the Flame” award. Cassandra’s educational background is in Criminal Justice and Psychology. She lives with her personal motto of “Improvise, Adapt, Overcome” in mind at all times. Cassandra currently resides in Southern Oregon with her fiancé, two sons and three accidentally adopted dogs. She is into archery, blogging, pottery, all things Renaissance and Viking related, writing fiction and gaming in her spare time.

3 Comments. Leave new

This is great. It outlines one of my pet-hates. but you forgot one of my favourites “The proof is in the Pudding”, it should be “the proof of the pudding is in the eating”


I got an albacore around my neck!

Alan & Jan Olson
04/01/2020 1:12 pm

One of my favorite is “large deal.”
[Already in your list] One of my sergeants in the service was proofing an incident report I’d typed that contained the word “irregardlesss.” He told me there was no such word. A bet ensued. I lost $5.


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