Eight Phrases We Say or Write That Aren’t Correct

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The English language is rich with words and phrases with a variety of nuances. The problem is that we sometimes write or say some of them incorrectly. As I continue my grammar cop theme from yesterday, I want to feature eight phrases that are often used incorrectly:

  1. “I am nauseous.” That little sentence phrase literally means that you make other people sick. The correct usage is “I am nauseated.” Of course, I sometimes say, “I am nauseous” because I know I make some people sick.
  2. “PIN number.” The phrase is redundant since PIN means “personal identification number.” When you therefore say “PIN number” you are saying “personal identification number number.”
  3. “To wreck havoc.” “Havoc” means “devastation.” So why would you wreck something that is already devastated? Correct usage is “wreak havoc” which means to “inflict devastation.”
  4. “Free reign.” When we use that spelling of the word, we seem to be talking about a monarchy that is free to do what it pleases. The correct spelling is “free rein.” It refers to loosing the grip of a horse’s reins so that the horse has more control over his action. We thus use it to mean that someone has been given more freedom to act.
  5. “Take a raincheck.” This phrase is used so much that it has become generally accepted as correct in the way we have changed it. We use it today to mean that we are postponing something to a later date. Its original intent was exclusively for baseball. If a game was rained out, you were given a “raincheck,” a voucher for admission to a future game.
  6. “If you think that, you have another thing coming.” The original phrase, which admittedly sounds weird today, was “If you think that, you have another think coming.” It meant that you should rethink what’s on your mind.
  7. “Fit as a fiddle.” The common meaning of the phrase today implies good physical health and condition. The original intent of “fit,” dating back to at least the 19th century, was “suitable.” I’m still uncertain where the fiddle fits in this phrase (pun intended).
  8. “The proof is in the pudding.” This phrase is one that can make you scratch your head. How does pudding prove anything? Go back a couple of centuries and you would hear people say, “The proof of the pudding is in the eating.” The only way you can discover if the pudding is good is to eat it. In other words, if you want to prove something, you have to take action. We have since truncated the phrase to where it makes little sense.

I know I have made your life richer and more meaningful with my latest grammar cop entry. What strange phrases would you like to add?


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About Thom S. Rainer

Thom S. Rainer is president of LifeWay Christian Resources. This column first appeared at ThomRainer.com.

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