I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: English is an oddly complicated language. And with so much complexity throughout its endless number of word combinations, better known as phrases, that shouldn’t come as a surprise.
It’s known to be a difficult language, with so many of its own rules contradicting themselves throughout countless phrases just because it feels like it. For example: I just used “its” instead of “it’s” for that statement, when you’d otherwise use the apostrophe to illustrate possession within the statement being made. Weird.
With 171,476 words (and counting) in the English language, it’s easy to see how certain combinations of any number of them can easily be mixed up and misused. I’m guilty of it myself and we’ll all continue to get some of these sayings wrong from time to time. It’s bound to happen.
What’s important is that we be open to learning along the way. If we’re saying something incorrectly, we should fix it for the next time. Ultimately, it will help us communicate more effectively. And there shouldn’t be much debate in that. Right?
Here are 5 phrases that seem to pop up every now and then, in casual conversations. Whether at home, work, or in a social setting, they all fail to make the sense that the person saying them intends. Simply stated: They’re wrong.
I could care less
The phrase you mean to say: I couldn’t care less.
If you could care less, that means you have at least a little bit of care already (as you’re then saying that you have some to take away, hence caring less than you already do). The reason you “couldn’t care less” is because you already care so little that there is no way to do so any less.
Play it by year
The proper saying: Play it by ear.
I’m guilty of this one, as I said it for years until it was brought to my attention that I had it wrong. I always thought that “year” was referring to time, so when one would “play it by year” they would be going with the flow of things throughout the respective time. Wrong. Playing it by “ear” simply means there is no plan and things will occur spontaneously.
Nip it in the butt
Correct phrasing: Nip it in the bud.
This one’s all about plant imagery and has nothing to do with humans. That’s why it’s not about nipping a butt, but rather a “bud”. So when you want to address something swiftly and quickly, to stop it immediately, then you need to “nip it in the bud” so you cut off the point of growth and therefore cease things altogether.
How to say it: By accident.
Although we’re all guilty of mistakes, whether it’s spilling a glass of water or breaking a window, they can often be seen as accidents. And when you are the guilty party, you did the act “by accident”. You didn’t perform the accident while on top of it. It’s “by accident” because that was the nature of circumstances surrounding it happening.
For all intensive purposes
The actual phrase: For all intents and purposes.
The English language can be pretty intense, no debate there. But that doesn’t mean you do things for “intensive purposes”. Rather, it’s because of your intent and your purpose. It’s all about what you mean in what you’re saying and doing, hence your “intents and purposes”.
Sure, there are times when we think we have the phrases figured out so we go full steam ahead in using them. However, if there’s ever a doubt, simply take a step back and see if its makeup makes sense. If something stands out or just doesn’t sound right, perhaps that’s because it’s not. It’s a good indication that you should either learn the correct way to say it or just find a new approach altogether.
As I admitted, which I’m always willing to when wrong, even I’ve used some of these phrases incorrectly throughout the years. But it’s all about what you do with that knowledge once you’ve let yourself embrace the lesson.
So, which are you going to be correcting the next time you choose to use it?