Eight Phrases We Say or Write That Aren’t Correct


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.

  • Pastor Robert Watson

    Concerning your booklet, “Eight Phrases We Say or Write That Aren’t Correct.” Specifically, Item #3. Yes, the corrected form of the word wreck is wreak, however, the original terminology used for this phrase should be “reek.” When men would come home from battle, after a protracted war or incursion, their wives or families would tell them to bathe because they would “reek of havoc.” The smell of old blood or decaying tissue would precede them, and in an inclosed room, such as a house, it would become almost unbearable. They would be “nauseous” to their loved ones. This became one of the first reasons for people to make and burn incense. It was also one of the reasons that men would burn incense in temple and churches. It was an attempt to not offend God (or gods) with the smell of our decayed flesh rotting from the death of our sins.
    Pastor Robert Watson – Maui Power Chapel – an on the beach ministry.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/HLQBMJS36PQVUR3CCXPLONNLKA Chaser

    ‘The proof of the pudding is in the tasting (eating)” I use often to describe Experiential faith through Trust. Unless one has tasted the experience, they will never know what it is like. It’s like explaining to and convincing someone who has never eaten a hot fudge sundae nor heard of it that: 1: it exists, 2 what it tastes like 3 what it feels like ..without using .the word, ‘like’. It is either True or it is not. I think that is possibly why Paul said a few times..”I do not lie”. Convincing people of his experience must have happened often, eg, King Agrippa. Such an experience is So Real, it redefines reality to the only True Reality, all the rest is ‘sinking sand’.. To Experience being Known and knowing and perceiving the Eternity of Him, can result in Seeing that in some way to me, God was more real than I was during the Experience. So Real.

  • http://www.facebook.com/james.embree.58 James Embree

    The incorrect phrase that I hear constantly is “I could care less.” Obviously what the speaker really means is “I couldn’t care less.”

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