There are many phrases floating around out there in which a vital word has been misspelled, thus either changing the entire meaning of the sentence, or rendering it unintelligible. Generally, it’s because the word chosen sounds very similar to the one that should have been used, and is a more commonly used term as well, but it’s important to know what the correct expressions are so you don’t end up looking like an illiterate hack. Here are a few of the more common errors so you can familiarize yourself with them:
“This peaked my interest”
The proper phrase should be: “this piqued my interest”. Although the words peak, peek, and pique all sound the same (hooray for homophones!), they all mean very different things. You can peek around the corner or climb to the peak of a mountain, but if your curiosity has been piqued, it has been aroused or excited.
“Waiting with baited breath”
Unless you’re sitting there with a herring tucked into your cheek with the hope of attracting a pike, you’ll want to use “bated breath” instead. “Bated” means “reduced in force or amount”, like holding your breath because you’re anxious to hear an election result or similar.
“Chomping at the bit”
Although this does make sense in a way, the phrase should be “champing at the bit”. This refers to a horse gnawing noisily upon the bit in its mouth because it’s eager to go and run, but it’s being held back for some reason or another.
“A Fragrant Error”
Unless you’re referring to a miscalculation of proportions when creating perfume, you probably mean “a flagrant error” instead. “Fragrant” refers to something having an odour or scent, while something “flagrant” is horrendous, and not easily ignored. As an example, accidentally emailing your boss a scan of your backside would be a flagrant error.
“Low and Behold”
That should actually be “lo and behold”, implying that something was a surprise to see. “Low” refers to either the sound a cow makes, or the state of not being elevated.
“Flaunt the Law”
This one only comes up on occasion, but it’s giggle-worthy. To “flaunt” means to show off, while to “flout” means to break openly, as in to break rules. Thus, the correct expression is “flout the law”.
“Given Free Reign”
Although kudos should be given for using “reign” in a sentence, the correct phrase is “given free rein“: this has to do with horses, namely letting their reins loose so they can gallop around happily without restriction.
One would assume that someone wouldn’t give a huge, toothy grin after taking a nice big bite of their rye sandwich, considering the mouthful of bread bits and such. The expression that should be used here is a “wry smile”, i.e. one that is bent or twisted out of shape, usually due to irony.
“Nip It in the Butt“
Please refrain from taking a bite out of anyone’s rear end. If you nip something “in the bud“, it means that you stopped it before it was able to grow to its full potential, like cutting off a rose bud before it opens into full bloom.
“Taken for Granite“
What, someone mistook you for a lump of stone? How terribly unfortunate. The correct phrase should be “taken for granted“, which refers to not appreciating a person or situation because you assume they (or it) will always be available.
I came across this one recently and nearly choked to death. Unless someone is referring to a goat that they have trained to be a ruminant Harry Houdini, they probably mean “scapegoat” instead. Way back when, the Jewish people would choose a goat at Yom Kippur and symbolically place the sins of all the people in the village upon its head. The goat would then be kicked out of town to wander in the wilderness, taking everyone’s sins along with it.
“Statue of Limitations”
The expression above may describe a sculptural installation that depicts the extent to which special-needs folks may be allowed to succeed, and no-one wants to see that kind of art anywhere. This phrase should be the “Statute of Limitations”, referring to an enactment that sets the maximum time after an event that legal proceedings based on said event may be initiated. For example, there is no statute of limitations on murder.
“No Holes Barred”
Really? What is this—an adventurous escort’s menu list? The correct phrase is “no holds barred”, referring to not having any restrictions. I believe this expression hails from the wrestling world, in which a “no-holds-barred match” is one in which all grips and holds are permitted.
“Shakespeare Was a Great Playwrite“
You know, I can understand why this one keeps popping up, as the great bard did in fact write all of those plays, but no: the correct term is playwright. The word “wright” comes from the Old English wrytha, which meant “maker”, thus a wheelwright is a person who makes wheels, and a playwright is someone who makes plays.
“…Sing a Little Diddy“
Um, no. The word that should be used here is “ditty“, as that word refers to a short little song. A “little Diddy” may refer to a very diminutive Sean Combs, but no-one wants to think about that at all.
Now that you’re more aware of what the correct terms should be, you can yell at others for misusing them.