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21 Expressions You’re Probably Saying Wrong

21 Expressions You’re Probably Saying Wrong

Expressions are ingrained in our society deeper than a termite in its favorite flavor of wood, adding flavor to our conversations and color to our communications. Some have graduated into clichés due to the commonality of the vernacular, and while most are still used correctly, some have become contorted compilations of their former selves.

There are websites dedicated to collecting poorly-structured metaphors to bring a bit of humor to the daily doldrums, and student essay attempts seem to garner the most glee from grammar snobs. Here are a few of my favorites:

“The ballerina rose gracefully en pointe and extended one slender leg behind her, like a dog at a fire hydrant.” 

“Her hair glistened in the rain like nose hair after a sneeze.”

“Every minute without you feels like 60 seconds.”

While these are certainly entertaining, they thankfully haven’t gained popularity beyond the humorous examples of things that just don’t quite work. Yet, other phases continue to feel the pain of incorrect usage over and over in daily exchanges. Here are 21 common expressions that have suffered unintentional abuse and are crying out for vindication. Fear not, dear distressed distortions, now is your moment for exoneration!

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(Throughout this piece, if my explanations confuse you further, the phrases on the left are incorrect and the phrases on the right are correct.)

1: It’s a doggy-dog world vs. It’s a dog-eat-dog world.

If it’s really a “doggy-dog world,” then we are all in big trouble. I prefer the fact that humans still veto dogs on the planet. If Fido is running for mayor, we may as well just lock up all the mail men for their safety and invest in fire hydrant stocks. However, if it’s a “dog-eat-dog world,” this conveys that people are merciless and will do anything to their own kind to get to the top. This is usually the underlying meaning intended. Hmm… when faced with that side of human nature, maybe I would prefer the world going to the dogs.

2: Waiting with baited breath vs. Waited with bated breath

If you’re “waiting with baited breath,” I really feel for those within sniffing distance of your respiration. Unless you really mean to say that you are waiting after just consuming large quantities of fish bait, then I think the word you’re looking for is “bated.” The word “bated” comes from the word “abate,” which means “to lessen or reduce.” So, if you are so excited that you are barely breathing, then bated breath is your best choice. Please, for the sake of the unsuspecting populace, leave the squid sandwich at home!

3: Pawn off vs. Palm off

What you mean to convey is “palm off,” which means to “pass something by concealment or deception.” Think of a card game where the card dealer surreptitiously deals a novice player a low card. While pawn shops certainly may have some shady exchanges, the original phrase had nothing to do with buying a gold chain in a seedy store.

4: Slight of hand vs. Sleight of hand

“Slight” refers to something “small in degree or inconsiderable.” The word “sleight” is related to the word “sly,” and means “deceitful craftiness or dexterity.” Unless you meant to say that the magician had tiny hands of no consequence, the correct terminology is “sleight of hand.” If you want to be really fancy, the technical term is called prestidigitation. It means the person has quick fingers that can deceive you. Now, a magician, theoretically, may need more practice and only have a slight sleight of hand. However, unless you are trying to be insulting, use the second phrase.

5: Take a different tact vs. Take a different tack

Unless you plan to change your manners in social situations, the correct usage is “take a different tack.” This is a sailing metaphor. To tack is to change the direction of a sailing vessel by shifting the sails and turning the bow into the wind.

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6: Comparing apples to oranges

Most people who use this metaphor mean that there are vast differences in the topics at hand. It means that the contrasting items have very little in common. For example, as it is used in this sentence, “You can’t compare a fish to a bird, that’s like comparing apples to oranges.” However, apples and oranges have many more commonalities than differences. They are both fruit. They both are grown from seeds and picked from trees in orchards. Both apples and oranges are sweet, similar in size, weight, and shape. Both fruits may be eaten and juiced. This metaphor lacks logical significance. It would make more sense to say, “comparing apples to aardvarks.”

7: Ante Up

The term “ante up” is used often in the business world. The user is trying to convey the need to supply a commitment of resources. However, the word “ante” is taken from the world of gambling. I don’t think most organizations really mean to convey that their business ventures are comparable in risk to a poker game.

8: Mute point vs. Moot point

“Mute” means “incapable of speech.” “Moot” means “debatable or doubtful.” While a moot point may cause someone to stop talking, it doesn’t render them mute. The point, not being a person, never had any ability to talk in the first place. So the word “moot” is a much better descriptive choice.

9: Blessing in the skies vs. Blessing in disguise

While a blessing may indeed come from the skies, unless you’ve been doing a rain dance around a fire, this was not the original thought for this phrase. Most of the time, people mean that even though things don’t seem to be working in your favor, later you will look back and see the hardship as a benefit or “blessing in disguise.”

10: Wreck havoc vs. Wreak havoc

To “wreck” means “to put something in the state of chaos.” The word “havoc” means chaos. So, if you say, “This dreadful weather will wreck havoc on our outdoor party!” you are literally saying that the weather will create chaos out of chaos. It’s redundant. However, “to wreak” means “to cause something to happen.” This works much better. There is enough chaos to go around. Let’s not create more!

11: Escape Goat vs. Scapegoat

A “scapegoat” in today’s society is someone who may be innocent, but gets blamed for someone else’s actions. The word originally comes from a Hebrew religious practice: During the Day of Atonement, the high priest confessed the sins of the nation of Israel over the innocent goat. The goat was then driven into the desert to carry the sins of the nation as far away as possible and die in the wilderness. So, historically the goat didn’t fair well and certainly didn’t escape peril for long. Therefore, “scapegoat” is the correct usage.

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12: Hunger pains vs. Hunger pangs

“Pang” means a “sudden spasm of pain.” Saying “hunger pains” could work, but is much less descriptive. While both experiences are uncomfortable, a way to reduce the painful assault on the grammar guru’s senses is to implement the correct usage of “hunger pangs.”

13: Wet your appetite vs. Whet your appetite

While I won’t stand in the way of someone easing their hunger pangs with a filling beverage, you can’t “wet your appetite” unless you find a way to dunk ravenous hunger in a liquid substance. Instead, the word “whet,” which means “to sharpen or hone,” works better. When you “whet your appetite,” you sharpen it or make it more intense, much as one would use a whetstone on a knife.

14: Pour over vs. Pore over

Trust me! You do not want the librarian chasing you out of the sacred gathering of books because you poured liquid over the cherished Britannica edition. The word you are looking for is “pore,” which means “to study closely.” Just don’t waste too much time poring over your pores. Invest in a good dermatologist instead.

15: Tow the Line vs. Toe the Line

The origins of this idiom come from the military. It is thought to mean the practice of arranging one’s feet on a line for inspection. So, literally, to put one’s toe on a line to be examined for a certain standard. It does not mean to drudge along dragging a line.

16: Peak or peek my curiosity vs. Pique my curiosity

It is rude to peek at my curiosity like an exhibition display, or to arrive at the peak of my curiosity by climbing it like a mountain. However, if you would like to pique, or stimulate, my curiosity, than you have my rapt attention.

17: Tongue and cheek vs. Tongue in cheek

While I have never made this a habit as it sounds like a biting hazard, apparently people will stick their tongues in their cheeks when lying or joking. Others obviously aren’t aware of this gesture either, since they mispronounce it “tongue and cheek.”

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18: Take for granite vs. Take for granted

The word “grant” means “to accord as a favor or privilege.” The word “granite” is a stone used to remodel your kitchen counter. Now, you can take for granted the beautiful granite, but that’s about as far as you can go.

19: On tender hooks vs. On tenterhooks

Have you ever met a tender hook? I haven’t. Most of the hooks I’ve encountered are hard, sharp, and not exactly on the dainty side. The phrase, which means “to be kept in a state of suspense,” is “on tenterhooks.” Tenterhooks are not encountered in the hardware store today, so let me give you some background: a tenterhook was a medieval tool used for making cloth. These small hooks hung fabric that was stretched for the manufacturing processes, so the cloth was literally “left hanging.”

20: To give someone free reign vs. To give someone free rein

This is another example where the incorrect usage garners some acknowledgment, but a spelling error is to blame for the misunderstanding. Most people think that to “give someone free reign” means that they are allowed royal power to do whatever they want, like a king reigning over his subjects. However, originally, it came from the days when people rode horses: When a horse encounters tricky terrain, the rider often loosens the reins to allow the horse to navigate on its own and trusts the animal’s judgement. So, the correct usage is to give someone “free rein.”

21: Fit as a fiddle

This is another phrase where the meaning is no longer the same as when it originated. “Fit” in this context doesn’t mean “healthy.” Its original meaning was “suitable or as appropriate as can be.” This expression is still used in phrases such as “being fit for a king.” In the 16th century, it was originally “as right as a fiddle.” So, in case you were confused, a fiddle has nothing to do with your amazing six-pack abs.

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Sarah Hansen

A corporate-sales professional turned entrepreneur

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Last Updated on October 14, 2020

Had a Bad Day? 7 Ways to Rebound From It and Feel Good Again

Had a Bad Day? 7 Ways to Rebound From It and Feel Good Again

Today didn’t turn out as you planned, but it doesn’t mean you’re weak. It simply means that you’re human, and you’re not bad just because you had a bad day.

“Not everyday is a good day but there is something good in every day.” -Alice Morse Earle

It’s not the end of the world when you find yourself thinking “I had a bad day,” but it can feel like it. You may have had plans that fell apart, experiences that set you back, and interactions that only did harm.

You may have started the day thinking you could take on it all, only to find you could hardly get out of bed. When you have a bad day, you can forget to look at the good.

Sometimes, self-care helps us to remember why we are worth it. It helps us to recharge and reset our mindset. It helps us to know that there are still options and that the day isn’t over yet.

Love yourself today, no matter how hard it’s been. That’s the way to find yourself amidst the hardships you have. That’s how you center yourself and regain focus and live a more meaningful life. Give yourself some credit and compassion.

Here are 7 ways to rebound from a bad day using self-compassion as a tool. If you had a bad day, these are for you!

1. Make a Gratitude List

In a study on gratitude, psychologists Dr. Robert A Emmons and Dr. Michael E. McCullough conducted an experiment where one group of people wrote out gratitude lists for ten weeks while another group wrote about irritations. The study found that the group that wrote about gratitude reported more optimistic mindsets in their lives[1].

Overall, having a gratitude list improved well-being and made one truly grateful by counting the blessings in their lives.

Write a list of what you are grateful for if you had a bad day. Make it as long as you like, but also remember to note why you’re grateful for each thing you write.

What has given you the most joy? What has set you up for better days? Keep a tally of triumphs in mind, especially when you do have the bad days.

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The day doesn’t define you, and you still have things of value that surround you. These could be material things, spiritual connections and experiences, relationships, basic needs, emotional and mental well-being, physical health, progress towards hopes and dreams, or simply being alive.

Here are some other simple ways to practice gratitude.

2. Write in a Journal

Journaling affects your overall mental health, which also affects physical health and aids in the management of stress, depression, anxiety, and more[2].

All you need is a pen and paper, or you could do an online, password-protected journal such as Penzu. The key is to get started and not pressure yourself on how polished or perfect it is. You don’t need to have prior experience to start journal writing. Just start.

Write out everything that is bothering you for 15 minutes. This helps with rumination, processing problems, and can even aid with brainstorming solutions.

However you approach it, you can find patterns of thinking that no longer serve you and start to transform your overall mental state. This will impact all areas of your life and is a great coping skill.

3. Meditate

Meditation can help you overcome negative thought patterns, worrying about the future, dwelling on the past, or struggling to overcome a bad day[3]. It shifts your mentality and helps you focus on the present or any one thing you truly want to focus on.

Here is an example of a meditation you can do:

Get into a comfortable position. Close your eyes. Rest your body, release tension, and unclench your jaw. Tighten and release each muscle group in a body scan for progressive muscle relaxation.

Focus on your breath, taking a few deep breaths. Let your belly expand when you breathe in for diaphragmatic breathing. Empty yourself completely of air, then return to normal breathing.

Next, focus on the idea of self-love and let it erase negative thoughts. Think about the ways you’ve been judging yourself, with the narratives coming up that your mind may create.

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Give yourself unconditional love and release judgment. Take your time meditating on this because you matter. This is particularly important if you had a bad day.

Check out this article for more on how to get started with a meditation practice.

4. Do Child’s Pose

Yoga Outlet says:

“Child’s Pose is a simple way to calm your mind, slow your breath, and restore a feeling of peace and safety. Practicing the pose before bedtime can help to release the worries of the day. Practicing in the morning can you help transition from sleeping to waking.”[4]

When you do Child’s Pose, it can be between difficult positions in yoga, or it can be anytime you feel you need a rest. It helps you recover from difficulties and relax the mind.

It also has the physical health benefits of elongating your back, opening your hips, and helping with digestion[5].

To do Child’s Pose, rest your buttocks back on your feet, knees on the floor. Elongate your body over your knees with both arms extended or tucked back, with head and neck resting on the floor[6].

Had a bad day? Try Child's Pose.

     

    Do this pose as a gift to yourself. You are allowing yourself to heal, rest, get time for yourself, recover, and recharge. When you’ve had a bad day, it’s there waiting for you.

    5. Try Positive Self-Talk

    Engage in positive self-talk. This is essentially choosing your thoughts.

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    When you have a negative thought, such as “I can’t do this,” replace it consciously with the thought “I can do this.” Give yourself positive affirmations to help with this.

    Negative self-talk fits into four general categories: personalizing or blaming yourself, magnifying or only focusing on the negative, catastrophizing or expecting the worst to happen, and polarizing or only seeing back and white[7].

    When you stop blaming yourself for everything and start focusing on the positive, expecting things to work out, and seeing the areas of grey in life, you reverse these negative mindsets and engage in positive self-talk.

    When you speak words of kindness to yourself, your brain responds with a more positive attitude. That attitude will affect everything you do. It’s how you take care of yourself if you had a bad day.

    Check in with yourself to know when you are having negative self-talk. Are you seeing patterns? When did they start to become a problem? Are you able to turn these thoughts around?

    6. Use Coping Skills and Take a Break

    Use your coping skills. This means not letting your thoughts take control of yourself.

    You can distract yourself and escape a bit. Do things you love. You can exercise, listen to music, dance, volunteer or help someone, be in nature, or read a book.

    It isn’t about repression. It’s about redirection. You can’t stay in thoughts that are no longer working for you.

    Sometimes, it’s okay to get out of your own way. Give yourself a break from the things going on in your head. You can always come back to a problem later. This may even help you figure out the best course of action as sometimes stepping away is the only way to see the solution.

    If you had a bad day, you may not feel like addressing what went wrong. You may need a break, so take one.

    7. If a Bad Day Turns Into Bad Days

    “I believe depression is legitimate. But I also believe that if you don’t exercise, eat nutritious food, get sunlight, get enough sleep, consume positive material, surround yourself with support, then you aren’t giving yourself a fighting chance.” –Jim Carrey

    If you’ve been feeling out of control, depressed, or unstable for more than a few weeks, it’s time to call a mental health professional. This is not because you have failed in any way. It’s because you are human, and you simply need help.

    You may not be able to quickly rebound from a bad day, and that’s fine. Feel what you feel, but don’t let it consume you.

    When you talk to a professional, share the techniques that you have already tried here and whether they were helpful. They may tell you additional ideas or gain insights from your struggles of not being able to rebound from a series of bad days.

    If you’re having more than just a bad day, they will want to know. If you don’t have the answers, that’s okay, too. You just need to try these tools and figure out how you’re feeling. That’s all that’s required of you.

    Keep taking care of yourself. Any progress is progress, no matter how small. Give yourself a chance to get better by reaching out.

    Final Thoughts

    If you had a bad day, don’t let it stop you.

    Know this: It’s okay not to be okay. You have a right to feel what you feel. But there is something you can do about it.

    You can invest in yourself via self-care.

    You are not alone in this. Everyone has bad days from time to time. You just need to know that you are the positive things you tell yourself.

    More Things You Can Do If You Had a Bad Day

    Featured photo credit: Anthony Tran via unsplash.com

    Reference

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