Flashcards in Phrases Deck (30):
What does “the exception that proves the rule” mean?
"The exception that proves the rule" is used when an exception to a generally accepted truth is discovered. This is an old fashioned use of the word 'prove', which means 'to test'. It does not mean it proves a rule is true, but that it tests the rule. It is usually used these days when an exception to a rule has been identified: for example, Mutillidae are wasps without wings, and therefore are an exception that proves the rule that wasps fly.
Nip it in the butt vs. Nip it in the bud?
Nipping something in the bud means that you’re putting an end to it before it has a chance to grow or start. Nipping something in the butt means you’re biting its behind.
I could care less vs. I couldn’t care less
Saying that you could care less about a topic implies that you do care about it at least a little. What you usually mean is that you don’t care about the topic at all, hence “I couldn’t care less”.
One in the same vs. One and the same
When you really sit and think about it, “one in the same” doesn’t mean anything at all. The correct phrase “one and the same” means that two things are the same.
Each one worse than the next vs. Each one worse than the last
Unless you can foresee the future, “each one worse than the next” doesn’t make sense. The problem with this phrase is that it isn’t logical. For example, you can’t compare two bicycles until you’ve tested them both. So logically, you would compare the current bicycle to the last bike you tested.
On accident vs. By accident
Sometimes I feel very sorry for people attempting to learn English. With phrases like this, it must be awful. You can do something on purpose, but not on accident. Prepositions are a killer.
For all intensive purposes vs. For all intents and purposes
You may feel very strongly and intense about your purpose, but that doesn’t make the phrase correct. Another common incorrect use of the phrase is switching the words “for” and “with”. The correct phrase means that you are covering all possibilities and circumstances.
He did good vs. He did well
The phrases good and well get interchanged so much that some people think they are actually interchangeable words. They’re not. If you’re ever confused about which to use, here’s a tip: Use “well” as an adverb (words used to describe verbs) and “good” as an adjective (words used to describe nouns).
I’m giving you leadway vs. I’m giving you leeway
Leadway actually isn’t even a word. Leeway means extra space and freedom.
Expresso vs. Espresso
I’m sure those of you who work at coffee shops have had people order an expresso before. There’s no such drink. The drink you’re trying to order is an espresso.
Irregardless vs. Regardless
Regardless means without regard. Throwing on “IR” to the beginning makes the word a double negative. I think we can all agree that “without without regard” doesn’t make sense.
Sorta vs. Sort Of
The phrase “sort of” was too long so someone decided to shorten it up and turn it into sorta. I think it’s just sorta lazy.
Scotch Free/Scott Free vs. Scot Free
I’ve seen so many explanations of the origins of the phrase “Scot free” that I really don’t know where it came from. But what I do know is that Scotch free and Scott free are incorrect.
Phase vs. Faze
The word “phase” is usually used when talking about periods of time or stages. For instance, “Bob’s interest in the iPhone 5 was just a phase.” However, phase is often mistakenly used in place of the word faze, which means to disrupt.
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!
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.
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.
How is the expression “Comparing apples to oranges…” useless?
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.”
How is the expression “ante up” useless?
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
Peak 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.
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.”
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.”
Then vs. Than
Then indicates time or consequence e.g. Bagels were cheaper then. Than is used to indicate comparison e.g. He likes bagels more than I like bagels.
It’s vs. Its
It's is a contraction for it is or it has. Its is a possessive pronoun meaning, more or less, of it or belonging to it. If you can replace it's in your sentence with it is or it has, then your word is it's; otherwise, your word is its.