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Most Commonly Misspelled Phrases:

"All intensive purposes." "Baited breath." "Tough road to hoe." "Free reign." These are all common misspellings. At some point, they become common enough to be correct alternative spellings, and some may be correct even now in their own way: "Free reign," especially, makes sense as a figurative phrase. But wise law students should be careful not to use such phrases, because whether or not they are in some metaphysical sense incorrect, they are likely to seem incorrect and annoying to many readers (including judges, partners, and other people you are trying to impress and persuade).

I'm looking for more examples to caution my students against, but I'm looking for ones that really are common enough to deserve caution. So my challenge: Which phrases can you come up with in which the incorrect (or, if you prefer, nontraditional) version gets at least 25% of the google hits that the traditional version gets?

Please post your answers below, with google's estimated count for the incorrect version followed by the count for the correct version, e.g.,

baited breath / 309,000 / 449,000

Please keep in mind the possibility that the seemingly incorrect phrase can actually be properly used in some contexts (e.g., "key tenant" can either be a misspelling of "key tenet" or a term of art in commercial real estate), and eyeball the results to see whether they might be mostly false positives.

Syd Henderson (mail):
"Baited breath" especially bothers me, because I picture the speaker eating earthworms.
8.21.2007 8:27pm
MacGuffin:
"another words"/"in other words" : 286,000/110,000,000
8.21.2007 8:29pm
anonVCfan:
MacGuffin, 286,000 x 4 = approximately 0.25% of 110,000,000, not 25%.
8.21.2007 8:31pm
MacGuffin:
Another peeve: These malapropisms generally aren't just misspellings. Rather, the words are correctly spelled, but they are the wrong words and don't correctly convey the intended sense.
8.21.2007 8:33pm
MacGuffin:
Yeah, I know most people get it right. It's just one that particularly bugs me for some reason when it's gotten wrong. I'm not sure that the frequency of error is positively correlated with the irritation of the error.
8.21.2007 8:36pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
"[T]he words are correctly spelled, but they are the wrong words." Hmmm.
8.21.2007 8:36pm
AF:
"hone in on" 747,000, "home in on" 434,000
8.21.2007 8:38pm
Adam K:
"Tow the line"
8.21.2007 8:41pm
werdz:
I was disappointed that "moot point" / "mute point" didn't make the % cut off. I am pretty satisfied with jibe vs jive where it seems the incorrect phrases are more popular:

"doesn't jibe" = 72,000
"doesn't jive" = 75,000

"didn't jibe" = 21,100
"didn't jive" = 22,700
8.21.2007 8:41pm
Ella (www):
"Weary" for "leery". I thought it was just one friend of mine, but recently I've been hearing it everywhere
8.21.2007 8:46pm
EricV:
From a post at Macworld.com:

"I'd just assume buy a Dell . . . ."
8.21.2007 8:48pm
Christopher M (mail):
It seems that what you're talking about is not just "misspelled phrases" but a type of coinage that Geoff Pullum from Language Log recently dubbed "eggcorns":
an idiosyncratic substitution of a word or phrase for a word or words that sound similar or identical in the speaker's dialect. Characteristic of the eggcorn is that the new phrase makes sense on some level ("old-timer's disease" for "Alzheimer's disease"). Eggcorns often involve replacing an unfamiliar, archaic, or obscure word with a more common or modern word ("baited breath" for "bated breath")

See also the Eggcorn Database.
8.21.2007 8:49pm
Alan Gunn (mail):
"Jerry rigged" for "jury rigged": slightly more than half.

"Baited breath" describes a situation in which the cat eats cheese before settling down bu the mouse hole.
8.21.2007 8:53pm
Pore Richard:
"pouring over" vs. "poring over". Argh.
8.21.2007 8:54pm
Donald (mail):
Professor V--

I think MacGuffin was trying to distinguish situations in which a writer chooses the wrong homonym (e.g., "baited breath") and those in which the writer, were he speaking, would actually choose to say the wrong word (e.g., "tough road to hoe"). If I'm guessing correctly, his irritation is increased in the latter case because it's understandable to pick the wrong homonym if one's never seen it in print before, but (at least in theory), an educated author/speaker should know that rows (presumably in a field) are hoed, whereas roads are where "ho"s work. (Pardon the really bad pun.)
8.21.2007 8:55pm
Archon (mail):
"Gravaman" vs. "Graveman" - Do a search for the later on Lexis and you will quickly see that it appears in dozens of published opinions.
8.21.2007 8:56pm
anonVCfan:
the one I was thinking of (spurn for spur) is in the eggcorn database
8.21.2007 8:56pm
FantasiaWHT:
"A whole nother" - 451,000
"A whole nuther" - 389,000
"A whole other" - 2,000,000

Probably much more highly evidenced in speech rather than writing; it becomes quite obviously wrong when written. The large majority of sites I quickly checked out for the two wrong options were simply commentaries on people's incorrect use of the phrase.
8.21.2007 8:57pm
spider:
"shoe in" instead of the correct "shoo in"

Google reports 1.060 million hits for "shoe in" and 0.377 million hits for "shoo in". (note that the possible hyphen in shoo-in or shoe-in makes no difference to the google search)

This page and this provide a nice explanation of the etymology.
8.21.2007 8:59pm
Milhouse (www):
To "take [something] for granite", means to think that it's "carved in stone".

A friend and I swap these whenever we come across them, and our private name for them is "tribal issues", from a brief he once read which referred to "tribal issues of fact"; and no, the case wasn't about aboriginal land rights.
8.21.2007 9:00pm
Ella (www):
Archon - Isn't it "gravamen"?
8.21.2007 9:02pm
MacGuffin:
Donald,

You're pretty much correct. Another example: I once knew someone who consistently wrote "want" when he meant "won't". Irritated me to no end since it not only changed the sense of what he was writing, but it forced the reader to stop repeatedly in order to back-up and figure out what the writer really intended. Equally irritating, it was no better when speaking with him, since his heavy Southern accent made his "won't" nearly indistinguishable from "want"!
8.21.2007 9:05pm
Tom R (mail):
"It all goes well" for "it augurs well"
8.21.2007 9:08pm
e:
Am I the only one thinking that some of the "corrections" above show a misunderstanding of how the phrases developed? I'd point out which ones, but I'm probably wrong...
8.21.2007 9:09pm
spider:
The Eggcorn Database given in the 7:49pm comment is awesome, although I have not seen most of those errors before.

Another mistake that annoys me is when people write "would of" or "could of" instead of "would have" or "could have". This seems to be more common among less educated people (sorry for the elitism), but not so much among educated people like law students.
Google reports 446 million hits for "would have" and 2.44 million hits for "would of". The ratio is similar with "should" and "could".
8.21.2007 9:12pm
Arvin (mail) (www):
This is less of a phrase, but still annoys the hell out of me:

"would of" vs. "would've"

3,400,000 vs. 6,430,000

Fortunately, the first link is to a cite correcting this usage.

And FWIW, I agree with MacGuffin: these are not incorrectly spelled, their the wrong words. Like that.
8.21.2007 9:15pm
Sean O'Hara (mail) (www):
I don't know if you'd count this as a misspelling, since it occurs verbally as well, but "could care less" gets 1,900,000 Google hits, whereas "couldn't care less" only gets 1,830,000 -- yes, the wrong version is 3% more common than the proper one.
8.21.2007 9:16pm
MacGuffin:
Your right, Arvin.
8.21.2007 9:20pm
Bama 1L:
Flout the law: 1.4 million

Flaunt the law: 1.1 million

Whenever I read of someone flaunting the law, I picture that person ostentatiously waving a statute book. "Hey, check out my laws!"

Some hold, however, that "flaunt" is acceptable. I guess after enough people make a certain mistake, it's no longer considered one.
8.21.2007 9:21pm
spider:
"Could care less" drives me into high dungeon, oops, dudgeon.

Seriously, I can't stand it. I frequently correct my significant other when she says "I could care less", but she never seems to learn...
8.21.2007 9:22pm
Archon (mail):
Ella you are right. I miss typed. I meant "Gravamen" v. "Gravemen."
8.21.2007 9:22pm
plodding blockhead:
de minimus = 550,000
de minimis = 2,300,000
23.9%

Of course, with all of these examples, you don't know how many google hits are for web pages in which someone says "people often write x, though the correct expression is y," which pushes the numbers closer to 50%.
8.21.2007 9:33pm
dearieme:
I assume it's you lawyers who are responsible for that appalling American habit of chattering about "parsing" a statement when you mean "construing" it. Eh?
8.21.2007 9:40pm
SFBurke (mail):
"To the manner born", which was reportedly coined by Shakespeare has 54,900 hits but has been overtaken by "to the manor born" with 129,000. At least the latter can make sense; though it is more limiting than the former.

SFB
8.21.2007 9:41pm
Kim Scarborough (mail) (www):
"hear hear": 995,000
"here here": 1,850,000

That's my pet peeve. And I excluded "here here here" from the latter search so as to exclude people writing "here, here, here, and here".
8.21.2007 9:43pm
I.I (mail) (www):
No way to get a ratio since it has valid usages of its own, but I've seen "voila" written "wallah" more times than I can count.
8.21.2007 9:46pm
Milhouse (www):
I thought a wallah was an Indian delivery boy.
8.21.2007 9:48pm
Lonetown (mail):
Not quite the category but

Aluminium - 57,200,000
Aluminum - 74,200,000
8.21.2007 9:51pm
Michelle Dulak Thomson (mail):
Lonetown,

"Aluminium" is the standard spelling in British English.
8.21.2007 9:54pm
Alan Gunn (mail):
Plodding blockhead's mention of "de minimus" reminded me of a couple of other commonly misspelled legal terms. "Contra proferentum" for "contra proferentem" gets well over the 25-percent threshold, perhaps because the WordPerfect spell checker prefers the misspelled version (or at least it did a few versions ago). "Habeus corpus" for "habeas corpus" doesn't quite make the cut (204K to 2,210K), but it's probably gaining. Whatever program spellchecks these comments wants two fs in "proferentem."

In non-legal-jargon Latin, I checked "curriculum vita" for "curriculum vitae," which doesn't even come close to 25 percent, but the search did turn up a web site solemnly instructing its readers that the former is singular and the latter plural. No: "vitae" is genitive singular.
8.21.2007 9:56pm
arthur (mail):
My favorite eggcorn is "pre-Madonna" (34,200) for "prima donna" (3,610,000)
8.21.2007 9:59pm
Rich B. (mail):
Buck Naked = 286,000

Butt Naked = 663,000

Is "Buck" becoming non-standard?
8.21.2007 10:01pm
John Armstrong (mail) (www):
Unfortunately, this class doesn't include the worst offender of misuse: "to beg the question".

However, we do have

chomp at the bit / 949 / 670
expresso / 11,300,000 / 35,300,000
closed minded / 637,000 / 651,000
8.21.2007 10:02pm
aboveaveragejoe:
champing at the bit/chomping at the bit--127K/376K
8.21.2007 10:05pm
steve lubet (mail):
"Wade in" instead of "weighed in." 823,000/1,200,00.

Soundalike pharses are sometimes called mondegreens, from the misconstruction of an English ballad: "Lady Mondegreen" instead of "Laid him on the green." The most famous contemporary mondgreen is derived from Jimi Hendrix: "Scuse me while I kiss this guy."
8.21.2007 10:12pm
Paddy O. (mail):
Chester drawers
Chest of drawers

428,000/2,160,000
8.21.2007 10:20pm
Ex parte McCardle:
Local TV news broadcasts are goldmines (or "treasure-groves," as a reporter on the NBC affiliate in Atlanta likes to say) of these sorts of things.

One I particularly hate [I couldn't figure out how one might Google this one, since I'm sure it's more verbal than written, though I've seen it in writing]: "dribble" for "drivel."
8.21.2007 10:24pm
Baxter (mail) (www):
I assume it's you lawyers who are responsible for that appalling American habit of chattering about "parsing" a statement when you mean "construing" it. Eh?

I guess I've heard the word "parsing" used, but I don't recall ever hearing it used quite that way. I've usually seen or heard it to mean picking phrases apart word-by-word and arguing about how each word or word part should be construed. E.g., is the word "respecting" in the Establishment Clause a gerund referring to the act of showing respect, or is it a preposition that simply means "about" or "concerning"? (According to every dictionary I've ever checked, it's the latter, but we have a huge body of law that seems to assume the former.)
8.21.2007 10:26pm
David Matthews (mail):
mashall law v. martial law 251,000/1,890,000

On the Marshall Law search, I had to subtract out "John Marshall" to get rid of the law school.

"When y2k hits, Klintoon will declare Marshall Law and cancel the elections"

was the most common use a few years back; now it's

"BusHitler will declare Marshall Law and cancel the 2008 elections."
8.21.2007 10:32pm
David Matthews (mail):
darn: "marshall" not "mashall"
8.21.2007 10:34pm
Malvolio:
champing at the bit/chomping at the bit
What's wrong with "chomping"? It means "bitting", which is the point.
8.21.2007 10:38pm
devin chalmers (mail):
Re. "A whole nother", I always thought that was an interesting example of an infix in English. You shade the meaning of 'another' by splitting it apart and infixing 'whole'. Nifty! But yeah, pretty much incorrect in SAE. Oh well.

See also the infixive idiom (courtesy of my girlfriend): "Absofuckinglutely!" Probably shouldn't use that one in your legal briefs, either.
8.21.2007 10:40pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
How about this? "Quote" is a verb (i.e., I quote John Adams as saying...), "Quotation" is a noun (i.e., let's look at the following quotation from Thomas Jefferson). Yet, I see a lot of intelligent folks using "quote" as a noun. Will that one day be grammatically correct? Is it now?
8.21.2007 10:41pm
Paul Zrimsek (mail):
"nevermind -nirvana" = 2,620,000
"never mind" = 2,750,000
8.21.2007 10:45pm
Paul Zrimsek (mail):
I was surprised at how well people are avoiding "different tact" (50,500, vs. 445,000 for "different tack"). I'd had the impression there was no stopping that one.
8.21.2007 10:52pm
Chip Smith (mail):
"slight of hand" / "sleight of hand": 470,000 to 1,570,000.
8.21.2007 10:56pm
PatHMV (mail) (www):
I've been seeing a lot of "reign in" which should be "rein in".
8.21.2007 10:57pm
JoeLaw:
just deserts 2,670,000 / 2,180,000

google offers to change the correct version to the incorrect version
8.21.2007 11:06pm
anonVCfan:

Whenever I read of someone flaunting the law, I picture that person ostentatiously waving a statute book. "Hey, check out my laws!"

Some hold, however, that "flaunt" is acceptable. I guess after enough people make a certain mistake, it's no longer considered one.

This is something I see in appellate briefs all of the time. As the Economist style guide puts it, "[i]f you flout this distinction, you will flaunt your ignorance."
8.21.2007 11:07pm
rosensmith (mail):
"I'm not adverse to": 26,900 hits
"I'm not averse to": 44,700

A bright new manager at work used the "adverse" construction four or five times in a single conversation; the urge to correct her was almost overwhelming. She does, however, say "extravert" correctly, so there's hope.
8.21.2007 11:10pm
crane (mail):
Rich B. - Yes, I think "buck naked" is becoming non-standard. Most people probably don't even know a definition of "buck" which would make sense in that context; I have a fairly extensive vocabulary, and I only know "buck" as a name, a male deer, and an action verb. It's possible that "buck naked" refers to the deer, since animals don't traditionally wear clothing, but it still seems like a stretch.

"Butt naked", on the other hand, is a totally logical construction; with a few exceptions, people who aren't totally naked have their buttocks at least partially covered.
8.21.2007 11:22pm
Siona Sthrunch (mail):
Surely the ruler of them all is "could care less."

"could care less" = 1,920,000
"could not care less" = 219,000
"couldn't care less" = 2,000,000

E.g. "Indians and Pakistanis could care less about the whole thing," from "What's up with South Asia," David Post post at http://www.volokh.com/posts/1150553937.shtml.

Indeed "could care less" gets 89 hits on volokh.com, some of which discuss the phrase per se, but "could not care less" gets only 23, and "couldn't care less" gets 67.
8.21.2007 11:26pm
Pete in Des Moines (mail):
I have always had a pet peeve for use of the word "pacific" when the speaker means to say "specific."

I also occasionally see "deep-seated" as "deep-seeded."

But my biggest pet peeve of recent years is that in the midwest, over the last decade, the word "gone" is truly gone. Absolutely everyone--even local newspeople and officeholders--use the word "went" as a past participle, as in "I've went there before." It makes me crazy.
8.21.2007 11:29pm
vepxistqaosani (mail) (www):
gild the lily: 73,000
paint the lily: 17,200

Perhaps the Bard got it wrong?
8.21.2007 11:32pm
Ian Maitland (mail):
I hope this is responsive enough. I have always assumed that to "troll for" was simply a phonetic (mis)spelling of "trawl for" because the vowel sounds are largely the same in American. But it seems I'm wrong. The following are from the Compact Oxford English Dictionary. It seems odd that 2 such similar words for such similar activities would have no etymological kinship. Can someone put me out of my misery?


TROLL FOR (107,000)
/trol, trol/

• verb 1 fish by trailing a baited line along behind a boat. 2 chiefly Brit. walk; stroll.

• noun 1 an act or instance of trolling. 2 a line or bait used in trolling.

— ORIGIN origin uncertain; probably related to Old French troller ‘wander in search of game’ and High German trollen ‘stroll’.




TRAWL FOR (23,400)

• verb 1 fish or catch with a trawl net or seine. 2 search thoroughly.

• noun 1 an act of trawling. 2 (also trawl net) a large wide-mouthed fishing net dragged by a boat along the bottom of the sea or a lake.

— ORIGIN probably from Dutch traghelen ‘to drag’.
8.21.2007 11:33pm
Paul S. (mail) (www):
"peak my interest" v. "pique my interest" (25,400/56,800)
8.21.2007 11:36pm
Joel:
Look at "boarder" vs. "border"... For example, the phrase "seal the borders" garners 29,800 Google hits and "seal the boarders" garners 623. Hmm. Using "close" instead of "seal", the correct one gets 74,800 and the incorrect one gets 3,950.

Interesting, since my non-scientific observations led me to believe that the mis-use of "boarder" was extremely common, if not over 50%. (Typically by those persons who, as noted above, were breathlessly expecting Klintoon to declare Marshall law.)
8.21.2007 11:37pm
RainerK:
Perhaps worthy of a separate thread: The use of Latinisms (or other languages -isms) in an incorrect way.
"To enter the country a visa is required."

Visa (plural) - more than one visum

Which reminds me: The use of i.e. for e.g.

Here is a nice list of common errors.
8.21.2007 11:42pm
RainerK:
One not in the common errors list:
Separate 353,000,000 - seperate 697,000
8.21.2007 11:48pm
Hoosier:
I can't search this one with any hope of meaningful result, since both can be 'correct,' depending on context. But my undergrads get this mixed up all the time: 'Populace' vs. 'Populous'

No. 2: Not as common, but I see it occassionally. And it's from Shakespeare, so it is vitally important to get it right, or civilization will crumble:
'To the Manor Born' for 'To the Manner Born'.

No. 3: 'Penultimate' for 'Really, really super important' (I worked for a dean who used to say this. Drove me batty.)

No. 4: BIG ONE for lawers-to-be: When they 'pour over' the evidence, they might want to 'pore over' it, too. And here's the depressing part:

Pour over (sic) 54.5 million
Pore over 1.9 million
SO I NOMINATE THIS ONE for the contest. (I think it's the penultimate example!)

I hope I have towed the line, since this thread bemused me.

And to PAUL Z., re: "Nevermind"--As I've said before, if Nirvana said it, it is canonical. (E.g., "When I was an alien/Cultures weren't opinions." No, indeed, they are not.)
8.21.2007 11:57pm
anonVCfan:
EV writes: "These are all common misspellings. At some point, they become common enough to be correct alternative spellings"

I think this explains how these things come about.
8.22.2007 12:07am
John Burgess (mail) (www):
RainerK: You've lost the battle on visa. The word is now English (and a lot of other languages, including those not of Latinate origin). 'Visa' is the singular for that thing in a passport that lets you enter a country; 'Visas' is the plural.
8.22.2007 12:10am
anonVCfan:
Hoosier writes:


Pour over (sic) 54.5 million
Pore over 1.9 million


I doubt the majority of the 54.5 M hits are mistakes. The phrase "pour over" isn't always incorrect. (e.g. "pour over ice" in a drink recipe)
8.22.2007 12:14am
TMac (mail):
This doesn't really fit, but I grit my teeth every time I hear someone use "past history". 2,620,000 Google hits. An unknown number are the two words separated by a hyphen or colon, which do not count.
8.22.2007 12:15am
kimsch (mail) (www):
There is a commercial for a credit repair company where the owner talks about Maya and her bad credit. He goes on to talk about Maya and others like her "who just want their life's back". He does not say "lives". He says "life's". I'm quite certain (without having seen it) that the script included the apostrophe.
8.22.2007 12:22am
Lev:
Re: "Tough road to hoe."

That is absolutely incorrect, however, it points out the historical variant and a modern variant.

A tough row to hoe. (traditional - from manual labor in the garden)

A tough road to ho. ("ho" being the abbreviation for whore, and road being where the ho trys to attract clientele.)
8.22.2007 12:25am
vinnie (mail):
crane "buck naked" Might refer to a native American male.

"exercise in fertility" was inflicted upon my by my father.
8.22.2007 12:28am
Bruce:
Drat, someone beat me to "take a different tact" and "jerry-rigged." However, I'm not out yet:

1) Waling on/whaling on: 181,000/2,930,000, although a lot of the latter are referring to hunting whales.

2) Careering/careening: 259,000/736,000 (some of the latter are referring to cleaning boats)
8.22.2007 12:30am
spider:
Kimsch: Why are you certain that the script had an apostrophe? Maybe it just said "lifes"
8.22.2007 12:36am
RainerK:
JohnBurgess,

Yep, that battle is lost. I just wanted to instigate some more levity since I expect the lawyers abundantly in attendance on the VC to have an exemplatory fundus of latinisms to contribute.
8.22.2007 12:37am
kimsch (mail) (www):
spider,

I can just see it. Life's. Could even have said either "there life's" or "they're life's"...
8.22.2007 12:40am
spider:
I've heard the phrase "white bred" (or white bread) used adjectivally to describe a quiet, somewhat privileged, European-American household. But I'm not sure whether it's meant to be spelled bred or bread. The meaning is slightly different depending on the spelling. Google shows that both phrases are possible (when attached to a noun like "upbringing" or "family") but "white bread" is more popular. But does anyone know how it should be spelled?
8.22.2007 12:43am
kimsch (mail) (www):
spider,

Probably "white bread" - bland and soft, like Wonder Bread. In my opinion it's not meant as breeding, but as a descriptor.
8.22.2007 12:48am
Latinist:
I have to step in to defend "could care less." It's not wrong, it's sarcasm: I say "could care less" when I mean "couldn't" just like I say "big deal" when I mean "no big deal," or "yeah, right" when I mean "bullshit."

Also, let's be clear about "never[ ]mind": yes, two words are proper when you're saying "never mind, it's no big deal." But there's also the one-word noun, as in "it don't make no nevermind."
8.22.2007 1:03am
bornyesterday (mail) (www):
"the effect of" vs "the affect of" :: 165,000,000 vs 1,340,000 which is pretty good considering the occasional correct use of the latter.

effected/affected is 36,700,000/241,000,000 though again, there are some correct uses of the former.
8.22.2007 1:09am
Latinist:
Oh, and on the subject of lost Latin plurals: I have occasionally seen "agenda" treated as plural, and once or twice (to my delight) seen "an agendum" referred to. I've never seen "a propagandum," but I encourage it.
8.22.2007 1:09am
Free Radical (mail):
David Matthews- also watch out for 'Marshall Law' as a misspelling of 'Marshal Law': the comic book character.
8.22.2007 1:10am
Syd Henderson (mail):
Straightjacket 371,000; straitjacket 768,000. Some sources are now accepting the former as legitimate.
8.22.2007 1:16am
Syd Henderson (mail):
In the same vein:
Straightlaced: 40,800
Straight-laced 333,000
vs.
Strait-laced 102,000
Straitlaced 89,400

The third is most correct, "strait" here meaning "tight" or "constricted."
8.22.2007 1:26am
cathyf:
"Wade in" instead of "weighed in." 823,000/1,200,00.
"Wade in" is what you do when you join in a barroom brawl which is already in full swing.
8.22.2007 1:47am
Tony Tutins (mail):
I've stumbled on risk-averse(1,730,000)/risk-adverse(218,000)
By the way, seeing which version is more popular is more fun on www.googlefight.com
And I've also run across similar words with really different etymologies, but as a fisherman, trolling (pulling a baited hook and line behind a boat) is vastly different from trawling (dragging a net behind a boat). Like any other angler, trollers still must attract fish and get them to bite the hook. Trawlers just have to keep the net opened.
8.22.2007 1:48am
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
darn: "marshall" not "mashall"

Marshal, actually (grin).
8.22.2007 1:54am
David Matthews (mail):
"Marshal, actually (grin)"

Wow. I'm usually pretty good at spelling, but I've been getting that one wrong for many years, apparently....

I coulda swore it was "Marshall Dillon;" now I learn it was "Marshal Dillon;" at least I'm sure it's not "Martial Dillon...." (is it?)
8.22.2007 2:00am
Dan Simon (mail) (www):
"horde of treasure": 6,840
"hoard of treasure": 1,780

"hoard of barbarians": 1,760
"horde of barbarians": 3,260
8.22.2007 2:13am
Steve:
I have to step in to defend "could care less." It's not wrong, it's sarcasm: I say "could care less" when I mean "couldn't" just like I say "big deal" when I mean "no big deal," or "yeah, right" when I mean "bullshit."

"Could care less" used to bother me until I read this explanation somewhere, and now I'm fine with either one. If it's hard to hear the sarcasm in your head, imagine someone saying "I could give a shit," which effectively means the same thing.
8.22.2007 2:36am
Kat (www):
Well, there's

"spit and image": 1,080
"spitting image": 613,000

though I suppose that means the first has become entirely obsolete now.

The error that drives me nuts in law student writing, though, which is somewhat difficult to search for, is saying "tortuous" when you mean "tortious". It's simply torturous.
8.22.2007 2:40am
Milhouse (www):
Paul Zrimsek: "Nevermind" is correct when used in the idiomatic phrase "don't make no nevermind".

rosensmith: "averse" v "adverse". If I'm averse to something I'll try to avoid it, but if I'm adverse to it I'll fight it. Also, at least the way I pronounce them, "averse" is stressed on the ultimate syllable, and "adverse" on the penultimate.

Ian Maitland: Yes, "troll" and "trawl" are false cognates - they sound almost identical, and they mean almost identical things, but they have no etymological connection. The same is true for "pen" and "pencil".

RainerK and John Burgess: Nope. There never was any such thing as a "visum". For as long as the word has existed in English it's been "visa".

Hoosier: "Penultimate" - yes, yes, yes. Also "epicenter" used to mean "the very center". It's the same error on both cases - people assume the prefix means "really really", when in fact it means "not quite".

As for "pouring over" a book, to me that means sweat is dripping from ones face onto the pages.

spider: I've only ever seen it as "white bread", meaning a bland and boring life. I've always assumed it referred to USAns' preference for Wonder-bread-like food products, rather than "real" breads such as rye.
8.22.2007 2:44am
Joe Hiegel:
Narrowly making the cut is "the gig is up", with 34,900 hits against "the jig is up"'s 128,000. It is, though, quite possible that there are some legitimate uses of the former (the first 50 Ghits include three or four), as, for instance, in some form of "Celine Dion's gig at Caesars Palace is up ["over"/"expired"/"concluded"]; she is to be replaced by Bette Middler"—why in the hell do I, purportedly a heterosexual, know that?).
8.22.2007 2:53am
Hoosier:
Joe--Yes. A good question. VERY suspicious. Now can you answer THIS question: Can you describe you dream kitchen?

Not a misspelling, but a distinction worth keeping (and we are not keeping it): "jealous" for "envious." ("For I, your God, am an ENVIOUS God" (?))

Re: "White bread/bred"--Billy Joel has it as "bread" in "Uptown Girl." Which I suspect would have been good enough for Dr. Johnson.
8.22.2007 4:46am
David M. Nieporent (www):
One of my pet peeves:

"bold-faced lie" vs. "bald-faced lie." Google results: 41,100 / 66,900.
8.22.2007 4:50am
David M. Nieporent (www):
The error that drives me nuts in law student writing, though, which is somewhat difficult to search for, is saying "tortuous" when you mean "tortious". It's simply torturous.
That's Microsoft Word, 110%. It has (or at least had) "tortuous" in its spellcheck but not "tortious." Drove me crazy for a while that it kept changing my words until I got annoyed enough to manually add the latter to the custom dictionary.


This is a weird one I've never encountered in real life, but only on the internet: people use "dominate" as an adjective when they mean "dominant." (e.g., "He is the dominate pitcher in the American League.")
8.22.2007 5:04am
NickM (mail) (www):
Apropos of tortious/tortuous, I once saw a civil complaint for Tortoise Interference with Contract.

They don't make Eugene's cutoffs, but the following appear far too often for my liking:
"principal of the thing" - 13,500 vs. "principle of the thing" - 88,900
"principle reason" - 118,000 vs. "principal reason" - 1,160,000
"Capital Hill" - 643,000 vs. "Capitol Hill" - 4,640,000

I can't put it into any readily Googlable phrases due to false positives, but the use of "loose" instead of "lose" is increasingly common in writings I see.

Nick
8.22.2007 7:12am
nyejm (mail) (www):
I concur on "spit and image" versus "spitting image." I think we've reached the point where the former is no longer used.
8.22.2007 8:44am
Paul Zrimsek (mail):
"No nevermind" is a perfectly fine colloquialism but it accounts for barely 1% (37,800) of Google's non-Nirvana-related results for "nevermind".
8.22.2007 9:13am
Francis (mail):
squash for quash. The things that are done to subpoenas these days.
8.22.2007 9:13am
Stevethepatentguy (mail) (www):
"Begs the question" is a phrase I no longer use. It seems no one understands anymore. Sheesh, I really am starting to sound like my father.

On "Buck Naked," I believe that it refers to male african slaves who were captured naked or nearly naked. I don't mind at all if that phrase dies.

I know that the "your" "you're" distinction doesn't specifically meet the criteria but Paris Hilton has a shirt that reads "That's Hot" on the front and "Your Not" on the back.
8.22.2007 9:41am
Boyd (mail) (www):
I only started hearing this about seven years ago, but it always sends shivers up my spine:

"flesh out the details" - 33,300
"flush out the details" - 16,500

I haven't been able to read through all 5,324,819 comments posted before this one, so someone might have already mentioned it, but another written pothole a lot of folks fall into is "would of" instead of "would have" and other similar mistakes (could of, might of, etc.)
8.22.2007 9:41am
LM (mail):
sufficed to say/ suffice it to say/ suffice to say

875,000/ 2,310,000/ 2,810,000
8.22.2007 9:44am
Andy L.:
Although it's only been said once by one person AFAIK, Mike Tyson's claim that he would "fade into Bolivia" after losing a fight may be one to watch.
8.22.2007 9:50am
LM (mail):

Unfortunately, this class doesn't include the worst offender of misuse: "to beg the question".

I disagree that it's the worst. Many, if not most who use "beg the question" do misuse it, but that amounts to a large percentage of a fairly small number who use it at all. On the other hand, some words are literally abused by everyone.
8.22.2007 10:23am
Al Maviva (mail) (www):
I hate botched declensions of latin / greek root words.

Datum - 336,000,000
Datas - 19,400,000
Data - 1,120,000,000 (Data as a singular noun has probably overtaken datum completely at this point...)

Forums - 548,000,000
Fora - 71,600,000 (the proper usage is simply crushed by the bad declension)

Memoranda - 10,900,000
Memorandums - 1,440,000 (the good declension holding its own, barely...)
8.22.2007 10:52am
JosephSlater (mail):
In addition to the many good ones above, I'll add "got another thing coming," as opposed to the correct "got another think coming." Yeah, I know there's a Judas Priest song using the former version. It's still wrong.

And I'm going to agree with Siona that "could care less" is wrong -- I don't hear the sarcasm when it's used.
8.22.2007 11:01am
James Finnegan (mail):
My favorite personal example is when I ran for Student Council Representative to the Board of Education in high school. It was the lowest position elected school-wide, and I was the only student running, so the teacher who supervised the Student Council told me that I was "running unopposed."

I thought she said I was "running on a post" - a non-existent idiosyncratic expression that actually made sense to me in the context: it indicated the fact that I was the sole candidate in the field. After that I used the phrase "running on a post" quite a few times in conversation, and no one ever picked up on the innacuracy because it sounds so close to the actual phrase. I only discovered the real expression about half a year ago.
8.22.2007 11:02am
Smallholder (mail) (www):
Re: Jerry Rigged

Jerry-rigged has a different origin from "jury-rigged." During World War One shortages on the home front forced farmers to repair equipment with bits and pieces of scrap from around the farm. Jerry was a nickname for the Germans, so the annoyed farmers would say that their hay tedder was "Jerry-rigged." My family has used the term for at least four generations but my Dad never learned the origin from his parents and I never thought about the origin when I used the term. I didn't know I was ethnically slurring myself until I read "The Great War and Modern Memory" in graduate school. When I was next in Wisconsin, I asked my grandmother about it and she said it was okay for us to use "Jerry-rigged" because we are German.
8.22.2007 11:12am
Houston Lawyer:
On spitting image, I read that it's a contraction for "spirit and image". I haven't been able to use the phrase since.
8.22.2007 11:14am
Dave N (mail):
"Plead guilty" = 3.550,000
"Pled guilty" = 1,400,000
"Pleaded guilty" = 2,020,000

I am specifically referring to "Plead guilty" with the short "e" sound (and rhyming with "pled guilty") though "Pleadeded" has a long "e" sound.

Of course, "Plead guilty" with a long "e" is different--and accurate as in "Vick agrees to plead guilty." A quick look at various links show that "Plead guilty" is probably used more that way than as a past tense though it is also used in the way I mentioned.
8.22.2007 11:24am
Automatic Caution Door:
"Could care less" used to bother me until I read this explanation somewhere, and now I'm fine with either one. If it's hard to hear the sarcasm in your head, imagine someone saying "I could give a shit," which effectively means the same thing.

Well, quite honestly, that one grates my ears too. And I don't think most speakers of these phrases are intending to convey sarcasm; they simply don't analyze the words they use. Most folks don't think as lawyers and writers do, for better or worse...
8.22.2007 11:30am
Connie:
And then we have the dreaded combination of "would/could/should/ of" with the past tense of "go," leading to such constructions as, "I woulda went to the movie . . . " That's more a verbal one, though, and one that is heard far too often in the Midwest.

And for the poster who commented about the misuse of want for won't; I have actually seen it written as wan't.
8.22.2007 11:31am
MartinEd (mail):
I only look at the Readers Digest if it is available at the dentist's office. I remember, many years ago, reading an article that covered this very subject. The only phrase I remember is the use of "a nominal egg" for "an arm and a leg." I had never heard the former while the article suggested it was common.
8.22.2007 11:43am
dll111:
Not really the same, but what about irregarless? I got into a big argument with my brother some years back about whether or not it is a word. He looked it up in the dictionary and there it was! He gloated and gloated until he read the definition, which was something to the effect of, a humorous irony, since it literally means the exact opposite of what the speaker/writer intends it to mean.
8.22.2007 11:48am
PatHMV (mail) (www):
For the record, I couldn't put up the Google stats for my "reign in" versus "rein in," because both are correct, but only in different contexts.

One can reign in darkness, hell or blood (according to Slayer), but one must rein in runaway spending.

We must rein in the pork barrel spenders who currently reign in Congress.

Here are some more examples. I mention the words because I recently got a campaign mailing from a Rhodes Scholar which talked about the need to "reign in" out-of-control state spending.
8.22.2007 11:59am
Dave N (mail):
And, of course, it might rain in Minneapolis.
8.22.2007 12:06pm
Charlie Hallinan (mail):
"tow the line": 94,200
"toe the line": 360,000

The count for each may be inflated by the large number of sites devoted to explaining that, unless you're a tugboat or a mule on the Erie Canal, you toe -- not tow -- the line.

As to butt vs. buck naked, note the reversal in the relative number of results when you use the proper spelling, i.e., nekkid:

buck nekkid: 16,800
butt nekkid: 924
8.22.2007 12:21pm
Hoosier:
"I could care less" should be prefaced by "like" if sarcasm is intended.

"Like I could care less." It also should not be used in this way after high school.
8.22.2007 12:51pm
Walter S. (mail):
"Founder" and "Flounder" are two metaphors for "do badly"---not quite the same, and often used for each other.
8.22.2007 1:13pm
Mporcius (mail):
One I've encountered when proofreading a grad student's work is "rank in file" for "rank and file," as in the sentence, "The leaders supported immigration liberalization, but rank and file members were opposed."
8.22.2007 1:33pm
Sigivald (mail):
Hoosier: Hey, plenty of heterosexual men can describe a dream kitchen.

The difference is they describe it in terms of equipment and layout rather than of décor. (As, for that matter, do your more practical homosexuals.)

Pat: More etymology and usage questions should be answered with Slayer. Kudos.
8.22.2007 1:33pm
SamChevre:
I can't figure out how to google it usefully.

I hate seeing "would as lief" written "would as leave." It has nothing to do with leaving.
8.22.2007 1:38pm
spider:
I love this thread.
Thank you Volokh for reassuring me that there are others out there just as pedantic as me! I think even most of my law classmates would not find this discussion interesting.

(Or is it "just as pedantic as I am" ? I never figured that out.)
8.22.2007 1:44pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Stevethepatentguy: Do you have any source you can point us to indicating that "buck naked" originally referred "to male african slaves who were captured naked or nearly naked"?
8.22.2007 1:52pm
Fub:
PatHMV wrote at 8.22.2007 10:59am:
We must rein in the pork barrel spenders who currently reign in Congress.

Here are some more examples. I mention the words because I recently got a campaign mailing from a Rhodes Scholar which talked about the need to "reign in" out-of-control state spending.
Heh. Or was he being inadvertently honest?

Here's one not even close to the 25% minimum, but usage seems to be growing in recent years:

2,310,000 for "case in point"

76,200 for "case and point"

Also has an entry in eggcorn database.
8.22.2007 1:52pm
JWN:
How about so-and-so "will try and do" something, instead of "try to do" something.
8.22.2007 2:00pm
Stevethepatentguy (mail) (www):
SCENES A FAIRE / scenes a fair / scenes affair
13,300 / 3,080 / 371*

*reflects some "a behind-the-scenes affair" type results
8.22.2007 2:02pm
KeithK (mail):

I hate botched declensions of latin / greek root words.
[Several examples: datum/a, forum/a, memorandum/a]

I'm as pedantic as the next guy here but this shift seems natural to me. Yes, in the source language "forum" is singular and "fora" is plural. But this pluralization is not native to English and sounds strange. Once a word is adopted into English it seems natural to apply English grammar rules to it. Thus "forums" instead of "fora" (which Firefox tells me is spelled wrong!).

The Latinate forms persist for some words like datum/a and memorandum/a probably because the people who generally use those words tend to be more pedantic (e.g. academics, lawyers).
8.22.2007 2:23pm
the Rising Jurist (www):
FantasiaWHT: I consider "a whole nother" to be a tmesis, and therefore acceptable (though it's definitely an informal colloquialism).

My contribution to the list will be:
No Holds Barred 286,000
No Holes Barred 164,000
8.22.2007 2:24pm
Stevethepatentguy (mail) (www):
I had always just heard that Buck Naked might be offensive but through the magic of the internet I found:
Common Errors in English Usage

The author's site is the mother load of theings like this.

The standard expression is “buck naked,” and the contemporary “butt naked” is an error that will get you laughed at in some circles. However, it might be just as well if the new form were to triumph. Originally a “buck” was a dandy, a pretentious, overdressed show-off of a man. Condescendingly applied in the U.S. to Native Americans and black slaves, it quickly acquired negative connotations. To the historically aware speaker, “buck naked” conjures up stereotypical images of naked “savages” or—worse—slaves laboring naked on plantations. Consider using the alternative expression “stark naked.”

Other explainations are available.
8.22.2007 2:25pm
M. Simon (mail) (www):
Tough road to ho?

i.e. a hard time buying sex.
8.22.2007 2:47pm
M. Simon (mail) (www):
"weighed in to a fight"

Seems like a good way of describing an alteration of the correlation of forces where mass (weight class) is important.
8.22.2007 2:51pm
M. Simon (mail) (www):
"No holes barred"

Around the world.
8.22.2007 2:53pm
M. Simon (mail) (www):
"tow the line"

Alan Ginsburg "America":

"I'm putting my queer shoulder to the wheel"
8.22.2007 2:57pm
R. G. Newbury (mail):
Browsed by here this morning, pulled my e-mail and:
(from Scuttlebutt)

"Peter Isler, who held duel roles in the last Cup as both sailor and television commentator, chimes in with his perspective."

So that would be 'winch handles at dawn' or 'microphones at 11'?
8.22.2007 3:07pm
Tyrone Slothrop (mail) (www):

I appreciate the shout out to my blog -- all the e-mails from well-meaning ignorami telling me that I got the name wrong have been worth it.
8.22.2007 3:11pm
Fub:
Stevethepatentguy wrote at 8.22.2007 1:25pm:
The author's site is the mother load of theings like this.
Bingo!

787,000 for "mother lode"

258,000 for "mother load"
8.22.2007 3:16pm
Nikki:
It may be just my boyfriend who does this ... but I've had to explain the difference between cache and cachet to him at least twice. (He has a tendency to pronounce the former the same way as the latter, in an American English context.)
8.22.2007 3:19pm
Stevethepatentguy (mail) (www):
Fub: You're post alludes me. I guess you reap what you sew.
8.22.2007 4:00pm
Tablesaw (mail):
I'm a proofreader at a large law firm, and these are three common mistakes I see. Only the first can be seen in Google.

1. Writing "arms length" instead of "arm's length" (noun) or "arm's-length" (adjective).

2. Neglecting to use the genitive case; writing "30 days notice" instead of the correct "30 days' notice".

3. And the most common problem I see (which is not limited to the lawyers at the firm) is Microsoft Word's "smart quotes" system failing to correctly interpret apostrophes at the beginning of a word. If you type, for example, "The spirit of '76" in Microsoft Word, the autocorrect feature will turn the straight apostrophe into an opening single quotation mark (the kind used to mark quotes within quotes, or the main quotation mark in British typography). An apostrophe only curves the other way (a closing single quotation mark). This becomes very noticeable when writing about patents where a long number is contracted to the last few digits (e.g., "the '409 patent").
8.22.2007 4:07pm
SMW:
"through the ringer" 106,000
"through the wringer" 151,000
8.22.2007 4:20pm
rc:
uh ma gaw! I can't believe no one has yet posted my pettest of pet peaves... so I'm going to try and make my own contribution:

"try and" about 61,000,000
versus
"try to" about 361,000,000

Technically, "try and" means something, but not what the speaker or writer means. The speaker means 'try to,' but says 'try and.' Which is fine when speaking, I guess, but writing?
8.22.2007 4:32pm
Fub:
Stevethepatentguy wrote at 8.22.2007 3:00pm:
Fub: You're post alludes me. I guess you reap what you sew.
Your right! But who's minds the sewer?

And I don't no whose on third.
8.22.2007 5:00pm
Qwertz (mail):
JoeLaw:
just deserts 2,670,000 / 2,180,000

google offers to change the correct version to the incorrect version


"Just deserts" is correct. Google gets it right by offering to change "just desserts" to "just deserts." "Dessert" applies only to the sweet, final course of a meal. "Desert" can mean several things, including an arid sandy place or a thing one deserves. One gets the things one deserves when one gets one's "just deserts."

Googlefight indicates that the incorrect "just desserts" is used slightly more frequently than the correct "just deserts." 2.64M/2.2M
8.22.2007 5:03pm
Hoosier:
A (mis)pronunciation that I refuse to correct:

"That's not my /forte/." We get this forte from the French, it would appear. So it should sound like the first word in, say, Fort Worth. The *musical* term comes from the Italian, and means 'loud.' So we say 'FOR-tay.'

But try telling someone that something isn't your "fort." It sounds stupid to my ear.

I also insist that "hopefully" is not just for adverbs anymore. It can express a wish, and not just the way in which an action was performed. I don't want to say "It is to be hoped." No matter what Sister Noreen taught us.
8.22.2007 5:12pm
Alan Gunn (mail):
Smallholder wrote:


Jerry-rigged has a different origin from "jury-rigged." During World War One shortages on the home front forced farmers to repair equipment with bits and pieces of scrap from around the farm. Jerry was a nickname for the Germans, so the annoyed farmers would say that their hay tedder was "Jerry-rigged." My family has used the term for at least four generations but my Dad never learned the origin from his parents and I never thought about the origin when I used the term. I didn't know I was ethnically slurring myself until I read "The Great War and Modern Memory" in graduate school. When I was next in Wisconsin, I asked my grandmother about it and she said it was okay for us to use "Jerry-rigged" because we are German.

The trouble with using "jerry-rigged" is that the reader can't tell whether the writer means "jerry built" (a bad thing, as it means "shoddy") or "jury rigged" (a good thing, usually, as it denotes improvisation, using whatever materials are at hand). "Jerry built" has nothing to do with Germans. It was common in the 18th century, long before German soldiers were referred to as "Jerries." Your explanation for your family's use of "jerry rigged" may be true, but even so, the term is confusing.
8.22.2007 5:44pm
SC Public Defender:
rod iron for wrought iron. Googled it but couldn't get meaningful numbers.
8.22.2007 5:56pm
Aleks:
One that I still chuckle over: I had an apartment lease that began a section about missed rent payments with the clause:
"If rent is in the rears...."
8.22.2007 6:02pm
M.E.Butler (mail):
Straight and narrow/749,000

Strait and narrow/30,400

Sort of proves the next phrase in the KJV: and few there be that find it!
8.22.2007 6:06pm
M.E.Butler (mail):
Re: EV's question as to "buck".

In a benighted earlier era, it was not uncommon to hear references to Indians as "bucks and squaws". As someone said above, it's not a bad thing to have those words disappear.

Of course, that doesn't stop "butt naked" from sounding stupid.
8.22.2007 6:11pm
neurodoc:
I assume it's you lawyers who are responsible for that appalling American habit of chattering about "parsing" a statement when you mean "construing" it. Eh? [dearieme]
My dictionary says "to parse" is "to describe grammatically." But isn't "parse" commonly, and correctly, also used to describe the breaking down of a statement in order to have a closer look at its meaning or logical implications? According to that same dictionary, "to construe" is "to show the meaning of or intention of; explain, interpret; invest with a particular interpretation."

What is appalling to non-Americans or non-lawyers about "parsing" a statement? (BTW, are Americans allowed to be amused by stilted Englishisms, or is "English" English always to be treated as the reference standard?) Why should "construing" be preferred to "parsing," especially if the intent is to "deconstruct" a statement in order to come up with possible alternative meanings?
8.22.2007 6:24pm
Smokey:
Geez, this thread just goes own and own.
8.22.2007 6:33pm
neurodoc:
One gets the things one deserves when one gets one's "just deserts."

We will be visiting Maine in a couple of weeks and may drive up to Mount Desert Island. It is a wonderful place, hardly "an arid sandy place." So if we do go, I'd like to think we will be getting our "just deserts."
8.22.2007 6:52pm
LM (mail):

"I could care less" should be prefaced by "like" if sarcasm is intended.

"Like I could care less." It also should not be used in this way after high school.

As if.
8.22.2007 8:33pm
Barbara Skolaut (mail):
I rarely use the "could" or "couldn't care less" phrase, but if I do say "could" and some pedant calls me on it, I explain that I could care less if I put my mind to it, but I don't think it's worth the effort. They usually go away mumbling.

(I say this as a professional pedant. :-D)
8.22.2007 8:57pm
Dr. Weevil (mail) (www):
Latinist (12:09am):
I do not encourage the use of 'propagandum', because the English word 'propaganda' was never a neuter plural, rather a feminine singular ablative (with a long A at the end). The word comes from the name of one department of the Papal bureaucracy, the Congregatio de Propaganda Fide or Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith. Further explanation of why it's ablative and feminine and a gerundive would be intelligible to the non-Latinists here, so I'll leave it at that.
8.22.2007 9:30pm
Dr. Weevil (mail) (www):
Sorry, would be unintelligible.
8.22.2007 9:31pm
randal (mail):
There isn't anything wrong with "try and" (besides that it might sound a little... southern).

I'm going to try.
+
I'm going to fix the mower.
=
I'm going to try, and I'm going to fix the mower.
or
I'm going to try and fix the mower.

If anything, it has a bit more optimistic connotation than "I'm going to try to fix the mower" which carries no indication that you're going to actually fix the mower.

ALSO

I have never heard "could care less" used sarcastically. That's ridiculous. It's just wrong. For one thing - and I agree this is only circumstantial - but still true: "could care less" is almost never used to mean what is says, so it's hard to use it sarcastically. Some things are really a "big deal", which allows other things to be a sarcastic "big deal". You never hear a sentence like, "I suppose I could care less about my wife, so I won't ask for a divorce."

For a second thing, the comparison to "could give a shit" is totally off the mark. It doesn't matter which way you take "could give a shit" - it means the same thing. Either I could in fact give a shit, and a shit is exactly the extent of what I'm willing to give; or I could give a shit - but won't give even that! It doesn't have to be justified as sarcastic in order to make sense.
8.22.2007 11:08pm
RJC (mail):
It's a long thread and this one already may have been mentioned, but if not:

by enlarge - 113,000,000
by and large - 946,000,000
8.23.2007 12:02am
Stash:
mentee: 775,000
protege: 17,700,000

Okay, this does not meet the 25% threshold, but I find "mentee" so offensive that I disparage its usage at every opportunity. While I will reluctantly overlook the use of "Mentor" as a verb (that battle is lost), I refuse to acknowledge the existence of the verb "to ment" that "mentee" necessarily implies. Resumes containing this word require no further review. I recently returned a fundraising letter in its business reply envelope with the word circled and the written comment, "This is not a word." I reserve such vitriol and summary dismissal for this error alone. This is because it is what might be called a Homeric error. And I don't mean Homer Simpson. Please warn your students against this fatally discrediting usage.
8.23.2007 12:45am
Tony Tutins (mail):


"I could care less" should be prefaced by "like" if sarcasm is intended.

"Like I could care less." It also should not be used in this way after high school.


As if.


What-EV-errrrrrr.
8.23.2007 1:03am
BlakeD (mail):
From Worldwide Volkswagen v. Woodson:

Hauled into court: 61,200
Haled into court: 34,300

Haul into court: 371
Hale into court: 53

Again, an example of the "incorrect" version outnumbering the correct version.
8.23.2007 1:16am
David M. Nieporent (www):
Randal, wrt "try and fix": even if that were grammatical, it wouldn't make any sense. If you know you're going to succeed, then "try" doesn't belong; it's entirely superfluous. "I'm going to try and fix the mower" would simply be a wordier way of saying "I'm going to fix the mower." The "try" adds nothing.

If you don't know whether you can do it, then it's wrong to say that you're going to try and you're going to fix it. All you're going to do is try.
8.23.2007 2:55am
Mike G in Corvallis (mail):
Many years ago I worked with a fellow who almost obsessively (two or three times per memo) used "appropo" in his writing, and he used it to mean"appropriate." Alas, he had no clue that the word "apropos" was really a synonym for "regarding." He was my boss, and he would not have welcomed a correction from me, so he didn't get one.

Google returns 6,360,000 hits for "apropos" and 126,000 for "appropo" ... so it's more widespread than I would have guessed.
8.23.2007 4:38am
Stevethepatentguy (mail) (www):
Fub: Watch those ad homonym attacks.

Whose on first.
Watts on second.
I don't no is on third.
8.23.2007 9:31am
Siona Sthrunch (mail):
Some posters here are reporting incorrect statistics because they are not quoting the phrases to be searched for in google.

For example, poster RJC above falsely claimed that google reports that "by enlarge" has 113,000,000 hits when in fact the phrase only has 34,900.

Similarly, poster JoeLaw misreported by a thousand percent the number of occurrences of the phrase "just deserts" (and misunderstood the phrase's meaning to boot). JoeLaw's incorrect numbers were quoted in a later post.
8.23.2007 10:03am
markm (mail):

"through the ringer" 106,000
"through the wringer" 151,000

I guess you young whippersnappers never saw a wringer washer.
8.23.2007 11:46am
Triangle_Man:
"forward to the book" 42,300
"foreword to the book" 62,500

or

"book's forward" 9,480
"book's foreword" 26,600
8.23.2007 12:07pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Stevethepatentguy: Thanks for the pointer, but now I wonder where the source got its information. There are lots of etymology myths out there, which is why I try to check up on such claims before going along with them.

One seemingly credible source, the American Heritage Dictionary, reports,
The chiefly Northern U.S. expression bare-naked illustrates the linguistic process of redundancy, not always acceptable in Standard English but productive in regional dialect speech. A redundant expression combines two words that mean the same thing, thereby intensifying the effect. The expression buck-naked, used chiefly in the South Atlantic and Gulf states, is not as clear as bare-naked with respect to its origin; buck is possibly an alteration of butt, “buttocks.” If so, bum-naked, heard in various parts of the country, and bare-ass(ed), attested especially in the Northeastern U.S., represent the same idea.
It doesn't expressly speak to the slave theory, but the theory it proposes (albeit tentatively) is different from that one. A different site expressly argues against the slave theory, at some length. So I guess at this point I remain pretty skeptical of the slave theory, at least until there's some authoritative-seeming evidence for that theory.
8.23.2007 1:24pm
M.E.Butler (mail):
In John Ferling's Almost a Miracle, Oxford University Press, 2007, p. 342, in the middle of a discussion of African American soldiers in the Revolutionary War, he writes:

"Before that summer [1778] ended, Massachusetts and Connecticut had raised black companies (the Bay State's was call the Bucks of America and marched under a flag given it by John Hancock)."

The footnote for this section of text includes 9 different works, only one of which I have access to, so I can't find Ferling's source.

We can be confident, I think, that the "Bucks of America" did not get their name from the same source as the "Ox and Bucks" regiment in the English army. (Is there a Buckinghamshire in Massachusetts?)
8.23.2007 1:44pm
DCP:

Duck tape or duct tape?

I've never understood how one of the most commonly used items could also be one of the most commonly mispelled words.
8.23.2007 1:48pm
M.E.Butler (mail):
Damned typo. Should be "called the Bucks of America . . ."
8.23.2007 1:49pm
Tom Shipley:
Arvin, good noon-day greetings to you:

I'm a tad confused as to the referral in your 8.21.2007 8:15 pm posting: "Fortunately, the first link is to a cite correcting this usage."

Are you directing us to a web "site"; or, are referencing a "cit[e]ation" on that particular site? My insight is not working too/to/two good/well today. ("good" is good Southern, besides you go to the "well" to get water and you had better not wail about it)

all the best
Tom

p.s. RainerK: I learned many, many years ago that "separate" was "a rat" of a word to spell.
8.23.2007 1:53pm
randal (mail):
"I'm going to try and fix the mower" would simply be a wordier way of saying "I'm going to fix the mower." The "try" adds nothing.

Well... that's obviously false because people say it and understand it, and it's grammatical. So what's the problem?

I'm going to fix the mower. <== absolute
I'm going to fix the mower, but I may not succeed. <== possibility
I'm going to try, but I may not succeed. <== redundant
I'm going to try and fix the mower, but I may not succeed. <== redundant
I'm going to try and fix the mower. <== possibility
8.23.2007 2:07pm
Tom Shipley:
re: "could care less"

I had a business contact in Missouri, who, when I asked that he perform a small task/favor for me; he replied, "I wouldn't care to do that".

I began to apologize (and berate myself for offending a customer), when he stopped me and said: "No, no, what I was "saying" was "That I would be VERY happy to perform the task for you!" "

I love the fact that our nation is a melting pot of peoples and cultures that transforms us into the US.
8.23.2007 2:09pm
Fub:
Stevethepatentguy wrote at 8.23.2007 8:31am:
Fub: Watch those ad homonym attacks.
I was told there was no discrimination based on sexual preference here.
8.23.2007 2:26pm
Dan Weber (www):
The barber's suggestion for a new hairstyle was daring, but I told him I was going to take a few days to mullet over.
8.23.2007 2:37pm
Stevethepatentguy (mail) (www):
Prof. Volock: The use of buck-naked doesn't shock my conscious, but I have a niggling feeling that it should be avoided. My mother frowned upon the phrase, but she frowned upon “dang,” “shut-up” and “butt” as well.

Fub: You win. I think that is the first time I have laughed outloud while reading the Conspiracy.
8.23.2007 4:47pm
Bob Goodman (mail) (www):
"Eek out" didn't make the cut at ~117,000 hits vs. "eke out"'s ~745,000. Neither did "coup de gras" at ~28,300 vs. "coup de grace" at ~833,000, but that's just in writing; I think a lot more pronounce it wrong.

Mondegreen is one sort-of term for these. If they were deliberate some might be considered eye dialect. They might be a narrow kind of malapropism too.

I wish there were a legit fast way to check out "air raided" for "aerated".

Here are some from football: "shuffle pass" for "shovel pass", "hook and ladder" for "hook and lateral".
8.23.2007 5:27pm
Porkchop:
Does this count?

"When I was growing up, I was always taught to stay away from racial slurs ... and epitaphs," Pasternak said. "This kind of conduct, from a supervisor who worked with kids, really bothered me."

http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,294243,00.html

For some reason, I can't get the Link function to work. :-(
8.23.2007 5:42pm
notalawyer (mail):
"Out of whack" 1,080,000

"Out of wack" 507,000

--------

"Whacky" 1,040,000

"Wacky" 12,300,000
8.23.2007 6:30pm
LM (mail):

I had a business contact in Missouri, who, when I asked that he perform a small task/favor for me; he replied, "I wouldn't care to do that".

I began to apologize (and berate myself for offending a customer), when he stopped me and said: "No, no, what I was "saying" was "That I would be VERY happy to perform the task for you!" "

I love the fact that our nation is a melting pot of peoples and cultures that transforms us into the US.

It's as if we've cut the Brits out of the expression, "like two peoples separated by a common language."
8.23.2007 7:30pm
Tony Tutins (mail):
linguistic process of redundancy... but productive in regional dialect speech

Co-workers from the rural South were perpetually asking to borrow my "ink pen". The redundancy was useful because it sounded like they were saying "ink pin".
8.23.2007 7:33pm
hey (mail):
Forte isn't mispronounced in America, unlike so many French words, it's just misspelled. US keyboard setups tend to lack accents, and many programs break the keyboard combinations that operating systems provide. Resume and entree being other examples. This has been exceptionally aggravating, as all of the shortcuts learned and practiced over the past 17 years are useless and one looks incompetent when trying to use french words or just French. Webmail programs are the worst for this and why I could never move to them exclusively (or rather abandon outlook as a frontend to their servers).

What's interesting is the number of people who are linguistic curmudgeons but are also strongly opposed to foreign pronunciations when the American one has diverted extravagantly (thanks to people with few foreign languages seeing the word in print and never hearing it pronounced). Several people at NRO fall into this category, including several of the English. This being insanely weird, given that it is only Americans who determinedly mispronouce french loan words (the Brits having so much exposure to French that they get adopt french pronunciations) and that the english language is the most brazen thief of words and pronunciations.
8.24.2007 1:49pm
markm (mail):
hey: OTOH, I've heard an Englishman pronounce Don Quixote as "Don Quicks-oat", something that will cause a double-take not only among Americans who speak Spanish but also among Americans who've barely heard of the book. Educated English persons make a point out of using French pronunciations for French load words for snobbish reasons: speaking French well was for a long time one of the signs of having received a good education in English "public" (that is, private) schools. They're willing to butcher words from other languages, where the snobs are less likely to know the correct pronunciation.

My opinion is that, when we adopt a word from a foreign language it becomes an English word, and we should adapt it to standard American English phonemes and spelling.
8.24.2007 2:28pm
Latinist:
Dr. Weevil: Neat. I never knew that. Interesting, but it kind of ruins what I always thought was a clever line in the introduction to Rolfe Humphries' translation of the Aeneid (I don't have it with me, so I'm not going to get the quote quite right): "The Aeneid has been accused of being propaganda; of course, Vergil would not have known what that meant, except "things that need to be propagated."

And I refuse to abandon "could care less." I frequently say "yeah, right" without a particularly sarcastic tone, and allow sarcasm to be understood from the context (as for example, when I'm typing, and no tone comes through at all). "Could care less" is pretty much only ever used sarcastically*, it's true, unlike "big deal": so what? And of course, because the phrase has become so common, the sarcasm which was originally part of it isn't consciously noted: but neither is the straightforward meaning of "couldn't care less." In either case, people don't really think about the literally possibility of a smaller amount of care, they just understand it as another way of saying "I don't care at all."

*Actually, I don't think it's impossible to use "could care less" unsarcastically: "Oh, I couldn't care less. Well, I suppose I COULD care less, but only about something really pointless, like the proper use of English idioms."
8.24.2007 3:34pm
kimsch (mail) (www):
Mark D.

It is interesting that in American English, it's Don QuixhotekE-'hO-tE but the word that describes Don Quixhote like actions is quixotic kwik-'sä-tik.

Per Merriam-Webster:

quixotic
One entry found for quixotic.

Main Entry: quix·ot·ic
Pronunciation: kwik-'sä-tik
Function: adjective
Etymology: Don Quixote
1 : foolishly impractical especially in the pursuit of ideals; especially : marked by rash lofty romantic ideas or extravagantly chivalrous action
2 : CAPRICIOUS, UNPREDICTABLE
synonym see IMAGINARY
- quix·ot·i·cal /-ti-k&l/ adjective
- quix·ot·i·cal·ly /-ti-k(&-)lE/ adverb
8.24.2007 3:53pm
Tom R (mail):
Spelling "cum" (ie, Latin for "with", in the sense of someone combining two roles - "Law professor cum blogger Eugene Volokh") as "come".

This might be

(a) a mistaken analogy with "Johnny come lately"

and/or

(b) a deliberate strategy to avoid setting off spam filters. I once heard that a Catholic seminary's online edition of the works of St Augustine - in Latin - was blocked by a filter: took a while to realise it was because of the Latin cum. (My own university's Eudora filters took to blocking emails - arbitrarily, it seemed - then it turned out, it didn't like the word "HOS", ie, Head of School).
8.25.2007 5:41pm