Ever said the wrong thing?

We can’t get it right all the time can we? Especially not me. Nothing I say makes much sense until after about the third rewrite. But there are certain phrases in the English language which we’re likely to get wrong more than others apparently.

A list came out a few years back of the most misused phrases by English speakers in the UK. Here it is below.

1) A damp squid (a damp squib)

2) On tender hooks (on tenter hooks)

3) Nip it in the butt (nip it in the bud)

4) Champing at the bit (chomping at the bit)

5) A mute point (a moot point)

6) One foul swoop (one fell swoop)

7) All that glitters is not gold (all that glisters is not gold)

8) Adverse to (averse to)

9) Batting down the hatches (batten down the hatches)

10) Find a penny pick it up (find a pin pick it up)

A friend of mine did ‘damp squid’ only recently – and I could quite see where she was coming from – it just makes more sense. Squib is an archaic word but apparently was a type of detonating charge – like a firework – for use in mining. It set off the blast. So if you got a damp one – no explosion – just disappointment and a bunch of people standing around in hard-hats saying: “Well – that was a bit of a damp squib wasn’t it?”

Personally I’m sure I’m guilty of champing at the bit – chomping sounds like you’ve got it wrong. I also used to say find a penny until I was corrected repeatedly by wiser counsel. But I would still feel more lucky finding money than a pin.

Surely nobody really says ‘Nip it in the butt’ though do they?

25 thoughts on “Ever said the wrong thing?”

  1. ‘Nip it in the butt’ is very graphic though and to the point – like getting a beating (usually on the butt) to deter a bad habit in a child ( I am from an old colonial society)

  2. I’m always confusing ‘dumber than a box of rocks’ with ‘madder than a box of frogs’ – perhaps I’m a bit of both at times?

  3. I’ve noticed that one of my previous managers at work (who was Canadian) used to say persnickety when describing “a fastidious attention to detail”, while people in the UK tend to say pernickety. I doubt it was ever in wide use, but it’s interesting to note the variation.

  4. Most people talk about ‘Fullscap paper’ but it should be ‘Foolscap’ – the name coming from the size of paper ideally suited to making a ‘dunce’s cap’ – or fool’s cap.
    (Been digging in my mine of useless information again!.

    1. that’s a good one Isn’t it? What a weird way to do paper measurement though – other sizes include big enough to wrap a CD as a birthday present and just the right size to make a paper plane

  5. I always say champing instead of chomping. Well, I don’t often have cause to use that phrase – not something I feel enough! But now I know and can be smug.

  6. Two more that annoy me: 1. Saying “I could care less.” This means that you DO care. Say that you could NOT care LESS, if your caring is pretty much nil. 2. “Butt naked”, instead of “buck naked”. (I am assuming that this was meant to refer to the lithe, strapping, native-in-loincloth concept…)

    Interesting to dwell on where these and other malapropisms originated…

    – Nancy G.
    Florida, U.S.A.

    1. They are both good ones aren’t they? I think they probably arise because they sound a little like something which makes more sense to the speaker – something more colloquial perhaps.

  7. As a kid I used to say ‘needles to say’ (for needless to say). I also used to say the word ‘sigh’ as opposed to actually sighing. Fun post!

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