More Misheard Expressions To Avoid In Your Writing

Last September, we rounded up expressions which people get wrong when written down. Now we're back with another collection of common errors that are spreading rapidly online and giving the Lifehacker Grammar And Spelling Police (GASP) heart attacks.

Picture by JD Hancock

As with our first collection, the focus here is on expressions that people have misheard and then written incorrectly. Many come from comments left on Lifehacker, and a few have also popped up in articles written by the Lifehacker US crew.

All are mistakes that should be avoided in writing which has any kind of professional context. It doesn't matter too much if you misuse a phrase in a text message or blog comment, but making an elementary error in a work document can make you look foolish and untrustworthy. I've referred to the Macquarie Dictionary (as the most reputable source for Australian spelling) as an authority.

"Grand illusion", not "grand allusion" or "grand delusion"

Don't delude yourself by alluding to the wrong phrase. All else is illusion.

"The be-all and end-all", not "the be-all to end-all"

Neatly defined by the Macquarie Dictionary as "the final and exclusive aim". Note the "and".

"Try not to be biased", not "try not to be bias"

"Biased" is the adjectival form. Hence you would "try not to show bias" (or "try not to show a biased viewpoint").

"Sound clichéd", not "sound cliché"

Another -ed problem. While the word originates in French, it's now integrated enough into English to take a regular -ed ending, which serves as the adjectival form. (You can use "hackneyed" instead to avoid any confusion or accent problems.)

"Sleight of hand", not "slight on hand"

Sleight of hand is "skill in feats of jugglery or ledgerdemain" (per the Macquarie Dictionary, and proof that dictionary definitions don't always make matters simpler). "Slight" has a bunch of meanings, but adding "on hand" after it will do nothing but confuse people. Having thinner hands probably won't help if you do want to be a magician either.

"Reinforce", not "re-enforce"

Whether it's an idea or a castle's defences, reinforcing is the relevant activity.

"Lacklustre", not "lack luster"

As the Macquarie makes clear, this is one word, not two. US English adopts the spelling "lackluster", but it's still a single word.

Got any more examples to add to our collection? The comments await!

Lifehacker 101 is a weekly feature covering fundamental techniques that Lifehacker constantly refers to, explaining them step-by-step. Hey, we were all newbies once, right?


    What about people making a mute point (instead of a 'moot point'). Grrr.

      That one is in the first list :)

    "Couldnt care less" not "Could care less."

      I've never heard this outside of the US. It's damn annoying though...and it really doesn't make sense.

        "I could care less" is a sarcastic twist on "I couldn't care less." It's a way of saying, "I could care less, watch," and then walking away, but without having to walk away. All the sarcasm, none of the abrupt conversation killer.

          no it's not, it's some idiot trying to justify why he can't get a phrase right.

      Yep, most definately...

        Yep, most definitely...

        "If you put an A in "definitely," then you're definitely an A-hole. - The Oatmeal

    The one that annoys me is "I could care less", it's "I couldn't care less" damnit! Could care less doesn't make sense in the context it's used.

    I got a packing list the other day which suggested I bring "duck tape"

      It was first used in WWII to seal ammo cases and was called "Duck Tape". It was later used on ducting and somewhere in there the name got changed.

        Google says you are full of it. Post some proof.

          Here your proof

          1. the story of duct and duck tapes; and;

          2. from whom you can buy Duck Tape.

    Was actually talking about this last night. My favourite (although not sure how often it would come up in a professional context) is "pre madonna".

      That's awesome!!!
      It could make sense though...
      "Marylin Monroe was a 'Pre Madonna'"!

    "Different than" makes me angry every time I hear it. "More (or less) different than" is fine of course, for example: "Compared to the colour red, orange is less different than green, and green is more different than orange".

    Orange is different from (or different to) green, but it is not different than green.

    My (American) wife says "done and over with" instead of "over and done with". How something can be "over with", I'm not sure. She also pronounces Worcestershire as "wor-shesh-ter-shire" intead of "woo-ster-sheer", which never fails to make me laugh.

      Sadly enough, "done and over with" trumps "over and done with", with almost exactly three times the number of Google results. :(

    There's no comment by some idiot saying 'god, get over it, grammar nazis lol!'

    I'm surprised.

    I have never heard anyone make these mistakes. I pity the fool who has.

    One that makes my skin crawl is the oft used 'of' instead of 'have'. For example "I could of been a lumberjack" etc.


      I believe that they are saying “I could've been a lumberjack”

        Yes, but they write 'could of' instead of 'could've'. It Grinds my gears.

      I hate it when people pull spelling or grammar errors out of blog posts, but I had to pick this one up in a Gizmodo post a few months back. It really makes my skin crawl. I now block anyone who uses "would of" "could of" etc on facebook.

    "Pedal to the metal",not "Pedal to the medal"

      This one annoys me as well...

      Similarly it's not "Pedal to the mettle", although that's quite a common mistake too.

      I've never seen that one. What amazes me about all of these, as well as a lot of other common spelling/grammar mistakes is the complete lack of logic behind it. What the hell could "pedal to the medal" even mean?

    My wife says "woah to go" and I say "go to woah", who's right?

    Also, is that how you spell woah?!!

      You're right on both counts. Going from woah to go is the same as going from 100 to 0. And it can be spelled both "woah" and "whoa" depending on your region. I think America spells it whoa (as they emphasise the WH or something)

      I've always said Go to Whoa... Whoa! as in Stop!

      Go to woah. It's relates to horses as in 'woah there neddy, easy big fella'.

      I agree with Grayda. It's more a change of state than a point to point. So whether it's going to stopping or stopping to going it doesn't really matter. I've always said go to whoa.

      The phrase "from go to whoa" is used to indicate that a quality applies to the entirety of an event, from the beginning to the end. For example, "My blind date was a disaster from go to whoa!". "Go!" is universally understood to be the beginning of an event, such as a race, and the command "Whoa!" was used to terminate a journey by horse-drawn carriage. The surprisingly common "from whoa to go" is nonsensical.

      As an observation, Americans seem to be overrepresented in the pool of mangled expression offenders. They also punch above their weight in terms of inventing unnecessary words. For example, sports commentators (the educated media specialists, not just the ex-athlete "colour commentator") will enthusiastically speak about "aggressiveness", when the word they were looking for was obviously "aggression". There just seems to be no regard whatsoever for etymology in USA, as exemplified by their referring to the main dish of a meal as the "entree", which literally means "entry" in French. What the rest of the world calls the "entree", USA calls "starters".

      Last edited 21/04/17 7:27 pm

    “Grand illusion”, “grand allusion” *and* “grand delusion” should all be fine.

    If I see David Copperfield make the Statue of Liberty disappear on TV that would be a grand illusion.

    If I compare how our marketing team have handled our social media budget to that event, that would be a grand allusion.

    If I think the CIA are chasing me because I have the missile launch codes, that would be a grand delusion.


      Thanks for highlighting another qualm of mine: collective nouns. The CIA and your marketing team are each individual entities, i.e. "the CIA is watching you", or "your marketing team has handled your budget" are correct, whereas using "are" and "have" respectively, is incorrect.

      I despise such collective nouns. They make my blood boil.

    "What can I do you for?" instead of "What can I do for you?" - A few of my friends say that and I just want to respond with "Sorry, you couldn't pay me enough".

      I always thought that was a cute, deliberate turn of phrase, given how common it is.

      It's an arguement for the assisted suicide of the elderly, even if they don't want you to.

    I *HATE* hearing "I could care less" instead of "I couldn't care less".

      You mean you could care less!?

    Or "I could give a ****", which is always weird.

      You know, even the 'correct' "I don't give a ****" still doesn't make sense to me...

        I heard that this was originally "I don't give a dam" - a dam being an Indian coin of low value. So it is similar to saying "I don't (or couldn't, or wouldn't) give two cents for that".

        Also, why do so many people fail to understand that "I could care less" is sarcastic? It means "As if I could care less!" Yes, it's an annoying, American verbal tic on a par with inserting "like" everywhere, but semantic objections are unfounded.

    For me, there's nothing more annoying than then where than should be.

    This is the other way round, words when spoken that have phonology with non-english roots.

    Nothing bothers me more than Ye (as in pseudo Old English) pronounced yee.
    The Y in ye makes a th sound (ie. the)


      Actually, that's a case where I'd argue common usage has made the y version the correct one for modern English speakers.

        I hate that in linguistics simply repeating an error often enough means that it is no longer an error. I am apparently a lone voice in refusing to acknowledge "invite" as a noun. In my mind, it is, and always will be, an invitation.

      well, yes... but I think it's probably simply a case of evolving language; when thorn was dropped from the English alphabet it was replaced by the already existing "y", and from there inherited a new sound. it's the kind of thing that happens all the time,(take old English cyning becoming modern king)and I think it actually makes it more fun ;)

    The one that shits me to no end, and I see it online all the time, even in professional writing, is the confusion between "lead" and "led".

    Correct usage of all three: "His failure to lead effectively led to all of the students losing their lead pencils."

    Past tense of "lead" is "led", people!


    "Illusions of grandeur" is another funny one.

    One Foul Swoop makes sense, but it's wrong..

    MACDUFF: [on hearing that his family and servants have all been killed]

    All my pretty ones?
    Did you say all? O hell-kite! All?
    What, all my pretty chickens and their dam
    At one fell swoop?

    The swoop is the rapid descent made by the bird when capturing prey.

      One fowl swoop. :)

    >“Different than” makes me angry every time I hear it.

    Let's be tolerant. It's perfectly standard US English.

      Whether it's commonplace or not, it is fundamentally wrong.

      Good luck finding tolerance for wrongness in these comments.

    "Albeit", not All Be It

    Alternate = black white black white black white
    Alternative = black or white

    Alternate != Alternative

      - To occur in a successive manner: day alternating with night.
      - A person acting in the place of another; a substitute.
      - An alternative.

      Alternate can mean alternative.

    I can tolerate any of the above but please Gen-Y, for the love of god, stop saying 'like'.

      Am I the only one who finds it somewhat ironic that the above poster's name has the word 'like' in it?

      Are you sure you meant Gen Y, and not Gen X?

      It's, like, far more, like, common? To come across a Gen X, like, saying that kinda, like, stuff, y'know?

      (for the record I'm an x/y cusp)

    'what' instead of 'which'. i.e. 'what floor would you like?' in an elevator.

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