As idioms and phrases begin to fade, each next generation tends to butcher them just a little bit so that they no longer make any sense. I say let’s all get together and memorize the true idioms so we can use them correctly for the rest of our lives! Or, we should at least try to get them right in our papers.

RelatedClearing Up These Commonly Confused Words

Hunger Pangs (not Pains)

This is one of those idioms I rarely used for so long because I just couldn’t remember if it was pains or pangs. Sure, if you’re hungry you might be in some sort of pain, but the phrase “hunger pangs” refers specifically to that feeling that your stomach is somehow gnawing at or eating the rest of your insides. Pangs.

Figuratively (not Literally)

Most of us educated college kids — especially English majors — know the difference between figuratively and literally, but saying, “I was figuratively peeing my pants from laughing so hard,” just doesn’t have the same oomph to it. Just make sure you don’t use “literally” in place of “figuratively” in class or in your papers.

Couldn’t Care Less (not Could)

This one is pretty simple if you think about it. If you could actually care less, then why don’t you?

Whet Your Appetite (not Wet)

This one I learned early. It was, for some reason, a favorite saying of my dad’s. How would you “wet your appetite?” By imbibing in a cold one? Perhaps, but it’s not really your appetite you’re wetting there, it’s really just your mouth and your insides.

“Whet” means to “sharpen” or “hone,” so something like a small hors d’oeuvre might stimulate your metabolism and make you a little hungrier. In fact, it might bring on those aforementioned hunger pangs. Yep, that’s whetting your appetite.

Nip it in the Bud (not Butt)

This one comes from garden terminology. When you are growing certain plants, you must prune (nip) them while they’re young to keep them from flowering. This helps thin out the plant and prevent overcrowding.

So, before it gets to the problematic and often-unsolvable state of being overcrowded, you’ve got to nip them in the bud. You know, take care of the problem preemptively.

All Intents and Purposes (not Intensive)

This can be most closely defined as “under most circumstances.” Intensive purposes would refer to the degree of the purposes, while this saying doesn’t refer to degree at all. It is often used to refer to a situation that is more complex than it seems, and for which you don’t need to know the complicated aspect of the situations.

Moot Point (not Mute)

Mute means silent or incapable of speech. Moot generally means uncertain or debatable. In this case, it is often used to mean debatable, but not practically applicable. “Marie is early, so discussing what to do if she were late is now a moot point.”

Pique My Curiosity (not Peak)

Peak means apex or climax, while pique means to stimulate. To peak someone’s curiosity might sound like it means to reach the climax of someone’s curiosity, but the phrase refers to stimulating someone’s curiosity or interest. “Your mention of beer has piqued my curiosity. I’d like to join you.”

Beck and Call (not Beckon Call)

There’s a good chance this one will change with the generations, since “beck” is the old form of the word “beckon.” Beck just means that you are somehow accessible to someone when they call you, and implies complete subservience. So if your friend is whipped, he’s probably at his girlfriend’s beck and call.

Which of these are you guilty of misusing? Let us know in the comments below!


Related5 Quick Tips for Writing Better Papers


Image: MLazarevski