Monday, May 3, 2010

Don't Write Wrong


(An ALOT, the bastard child of stupidity and laziness, awesomely defined and illustrated by Allie Brosh at Hyperbole and a Half.)

While this post is about writing errors that drive me batty, I actually nearly titled it Don't Be An Asshole About Grammar, because I've kind of had it with people who think their ability to point out where you've screwed up affect/effect makes them morally superior to you. Yes, I agree that people who ignore grammar and spelling wholesale should probably be fed to wolves, but pointing out and/or judging the errors of writers who are trying their best means two things will eventually happen to you:

1. You won't be set up with somebody's cute, smart friend who rescues puppies in his/her spare time but can't tell the difference between "its" and "it's."

2. When you inevitably make a mistake, instead of politely overlooking it, everyone will point and laugh.

That said, here are a few mistakes that just about make me pass out from nerd rage every time I see them.

Baited breath

It's bated breath, people. It means "the condition of waiting for something to happen" and is generally used in moments of high anticipation. Which is why it kills me to see "baited," because I flash right to fishy-smelling breath and the tense mood is ruined. RUINED. Okay, really, I usually just giggle and keep reading, but it definitely throws me out of the story.

Sadly, in researching this, I discovered that since "bated" is so archaic that it's basically only used in this one phrase, "baited breath" may actually become standard usage. It's even used in Harry Potter. This makes me cry. But I am not the language police, so I may just have to get used to anticipatory fish breath.

All intensive purposes

I'll be honest, I'm pretty sure I say this in conversation all the time. But, you know, I also tell my daughter that she "ate good." My spoken English sucks. The real phrase is all intents and purposes and it's just a fancy way of saying "for all practical purposes." When I'm writing, I remember the correct phrase by considering that while you can be intense about your purpose, the purpose itself cannot be intense.

Bare with me

Roxy actually asked me about this one the other day, and I explained that it's bear with me, and she could remember it by thinking that "to bear" equals "to carry" and the phrase basically means "carry on with me." It's not an exact analogy, but if it helps anyone remember that the saying should not be spelled so that it means "get naked with me," it will have served its purpose. (Or you could try remembering the more formal explanation.)

Mute point

Or, if you're Joey from Friends, "moo point." I don't have any logical objection to this one, really, since the meanings of "moot point" (an irrelevant point) and "mute point" (a silent point, I guess?) are similar enough, in that they are both points that don't need to be talked about. I just think "mute point" sounds ridiculous. But it might be the longest lasting mispronunciation on this list, with an example dating back to 1749.

Mistaken homophones are a big point of annoyance among word enthusiasts, but usually they focus on the most common mistakes, so I'll just address two less-frequent screw ups that crack me up every time.

taut/taught

I don't know why I find this mistake so funny; I just do. Maybe it's that the meanings are so different. (taut = pulled tight. taught = past tense of "teach.") All I know is that seeing "taught tendons" or "faces pulled taught" kills me.

prostrate/prostate

I totally know why I find this one funny! When one word means "face down on the ground" and the other is a frequently troublesome human gland, the inherent absurdity is comedy gold. Don't believe me? Read this and try not to giggle.

Okay, those are my pet peeves. What are yours?

And because I love you all and want everything you write to be perfect, here are some resources you can use if you're unsure about a word or phrase. (Or, if you're a word nerd like me, you can read for fun and education. I had no idea it's "card sharp" not "card shark!")

Common Errors in English Usage
100 Most Often Mispronounced Words and Phrases in [British] English
Terribly Write

7 comments:

  1. "Irregardless." When ANYONE says this, I cringe. Ir + regardless = double negative, which then makes this a positive. I've heard VIPs at nearly every company I've worked for use "irregardless" in speeches, and it makes me want to scream. Irregardless does not mean what you think it means, because it's the exact opposite of what you're trying to say. Bah!

    Also, I hate the Chicago-ism "Want to go with?" With what, exactly? With an elephant? With an umbrella? With a kiwi fruit? Oh, you meant "with you." Well, you didn't give me a noun, so I made up my own. [Insert bitchface here.] Worst of all, "go with" is spreading. I've heard it said on scripted TV shows. Kill me now.

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  2. Yeah, I think "go with" is everywhere now, sad to report.

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  3. ::weeps::

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  4. Rein/Reign, as in to rein in (like with a horse) and to reign over (like a monarch).

    Vagina, when they mean vulva. Unless you're using a speculum, you did not see Britney's vagina, no matter how short her skirt was.

    Tax returns/refunds: A return is what you file, a refund is what you get back. Even Judge Judy messed this up recently and it made me want to cry.

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  5. The vagina/vulva problem drove me crazy when I was writing the vajazzling post, because I know it's wrong, but it's so commonly used now that I almost felt like I should use it. Stupid usage peer pressure.

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  6. People who say "ironical" when there's no such word! It's "ironic." It's always, always just "ironic."

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  7. Lead as the past tense of lead. It's LED! Just because read uses it doesn't mean lead does! Lead is either TO LEAD or METAL or a LEASH. It is never past tense!

    Also, because I will never ever understand where people learn this in the first place, apostrophes to pluralize. Especially common when writing family names or days of the week. This is never ever right unless you are pluralizing a single letter, like if you are talking about the s's in the windy road. (And even then, I'd go with esses.) *headdesk*

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