Tag Archives: confusing English

Do You Say These Phrases?

images.jpg Our ears can play tricks on us. Remember when you (and I) thought duct tape was duck tape? (Who would ever tape a duck?)

Here are some more phrases you might be saying and writing incorrectly:

Hear, hear! It’s not Here, here! You really are saying, “I hear you and agree with you.”

Free rein, not free reign. No royalty involved. If you give someone free rein, it’s like giving a horse freedom to gallop without a rider pulling back on the reins.

Heartrending, not rendering. Rending is like breaking, such as in a heartrending sob, as if one’s heart were broken in  two.

•  Statute of limitations, not statue. A statute is akin to a law. In some cases, you have a certain time within which you must bring charges. It does not involve equestrian statues in the park.

Shoo-in, no fancy footwear involved. If you shoo a mosquito away, you’re likely waving your hand to make that nuisance disappear quickly. If Eliza is a shoo-in for class president, she’s got a clear, easy shot at the position, as if her supporters are pushing her into it.

 

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An Important Distinction

I was driving next to a truck on the infamous 405 freeway.  The company installs audio and visual components and proudly displayed its name in various places on the truck: SIMPLISTIC SOLUTIONS. I was in no danger of driving off the freeway since my maximum speed at the time ranged from 5-10 mph. But I did swallow my gum.

Being the crank that I am, I sent the company an e-mail:

To Simplistic Solutions:

 I saw one of your trucks on the 405 and almost croaked. It appears you do not realize that “simplistic” and “simple” are not synonyms.  You know what “simple” means; “simplistic” means overly simple, too simple—it is most definitely a NEGATIVE.  I am certain that is not the idea you want potential customers to have about your company.

 Cheers anyway—

 Judi Birnberg

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Look-alikes and Sound-alikes

So many words look and sound similar but have different meanings. Here are a few:

 

 

 

FORTH means onward or forward: Brianna set forth from her apartment, not knowing what to expect from the blind date at Starbucks.

FOURTH has within it the number four, containing its meaning.

 

DESSERT. Yummy. Hard to resist. Mmmm. Strawberry shortcake.

DESERT as a noun means a sandy, dry area. As a verb, with the accent on the second syllable, it means to abandon or leave behind.

 

COMPLEMENT completes something: A glass of beer is not the perfect complement to a serving of strawberry shortcake. Her sweater complements her green eyes.

COMPLIMENT means praise: Why is it difficult for so many people to accept a compliment?

 

A LOT is a piece of land you can build on. It also means “many” or “much.” There is no such word as alot.

ALLOT means to parcel out or distribute. I told my children I would allot them two pieces of Halloween candy each day.

 

MINER is a person working in a mine.

MINOR means lesser or not particularly important: It’s hard to believe Van Gogh was once considered a minor artist. If you are a minor (less than legal age), you cannot buy alcohol in your state.

 

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Have You Heard?

So many words in English (and most likely in every language) are so close to other words,  both in spelling and pronunciation. These similarities contribute to phrases that are close, but no cigars will be distributed:

Statue of limitations   You want the legal term statute.

Pass mustard   At the dinner table, fine. But the expression is to pass muster, meaning to pass inspection.

Free reign   No royalty involved. It’s free rein (as in giving your horse freedom to ride however she wants).

Baited breath  I’m squirming. Leave the bait in the boat. It’s bated breath, meaning the people holding their breath are waiting anxiously for something to occur.

Heart-rendering  The expression is heartrending. To rend is to tear.

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Don’t Shun the -sions

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An optical illusion–I see movement and three dimensions. Perhaps I am deluded.

 

Here are a few words that look as if they might be related,  but they have different meanings:

ILLUSION: 1) A false belief or idea. 2) Something that is perceived incorrectly, such as an optical illusion. For example, at times the moon appears to be enormous, but, in fact, it doesn’t change its size. For a multitude of optical illusions, google the art of MC Escher.

ALLUSION: A reference to something without specifically mentioning it. For example, many literary works contain allusions to Shakespeare’s plays.

DELUSION: An idea firmly held but not founded in fact. Paranoid thought can involve many delusions.

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Words That Sound As If They Should Mean Something Else

My pulchritudinous furry grandson, Gus

Have you ever come across a word whose meaning doesn’t seem right? For me, a big one is ENERVATE.

The hot weather we are dealing with in Southern California enervates me. That means it saps me of energy. I think because enervate starts the same as energize, it should mean something similar. However, it means the opposite.

Another deceptive word is PULCHRITUDE. Ugly word. Seems to me that it should mean an ugly demeanor or condition. But no! It means beauty. See above.

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And the Prize for the Longest (Unintelligible) Sentence Goes To…

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I don’t have to tell you who spoke the long chunk of words below. The passage is full of fragments, stream of consciousness musings, and run-on sentences. What is a run-on sentence? Not every long sentence constitutes a run-on. You could join countless sentences together with ands and buts and subordinate clauses; it would be torture to read or listen to, but it wouldn’t be a run-on.

A run-on is when you join two or more intact sentences (subject, verb, complete thought) with either (1) commas, sometimes called a comma splice, or (2) no punctuation between them, sometimes called a fused sentence:

(1) You love dogs, some people adore hamsters.   (2) You love dogs some people adore hamsters.

You can fix these sentences by making them separate sentences with end punctuation. Or you can add a conjunction after the comma. You can also separate them with a semicolon.

I’m thinking it might be beneficial to have people pass a literacy test before running for president.

Look, having nuclear—my uncle was a great professor and scientist and engineer, Dr. John Trump at MIT; good genes, very good genes, OK, very smart, the Wharton School of Finance, very good, very smart—you know, if you’re a conservative Republican, if I were a liberal, if, like, OK, if I ran as a liberal Democrat, they would say I’m one of the smartest people anywhere in the world—it’s true!—but when you’re a conservative Republican they try—oh, do they do a number—that’s why I always start off: Went to Wharton, was a good student, went there, went there, did this, built a fortune—you know I have to give my like credentials all the time, because we’re a little disadvantaged—but you look at the nuclear deal, the thing that really bothers me—it would have been so easy, and it’s not as important as these lives are (nuclear is powerful; my uncle explained that to me many, many years ago, the power and that was 35 years ago; he would explain the power of what’s going to happen and he was right—who would have thought?), but when you look at what’s going on with the four prisoners—now it used to be three, now it’s four—but when it was three and even now, I would have said it’s all in the messenger, fellas, and it is fellas because, you know, they don’t, they haven’t figured that the women are smarter right now than the men, so, you know, it’s gonna take them about another 150 years—but the Persians are great negotiators, the Iranians are great negotiators, so, and they, they just killed, they just killed us.

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