I Get Very Cross When Writers Use Cross-Purposes Incorrectly

People disagree; that's life. Sometimes we might describe those people as being at cross-purposes with each. But don't make the mistake of using "across purposes" instead.

Anger picture from Shutterstock

The Macquarie Dictionary provides a handy definition for 'be at cross-purposes' (note the hyphen which helps minimise ambiguity):

to be involved in a misunderstanding, such that each person makes a wrong interpretation of the other's interest or intentions

It's easy to see how someone who hears this expression (rather than reading it) might assume that the phrase is "across purposes". It's an innocent mistake, but that's no reason to perpetuate the incorrect version.

Language is often illogical, but in this case the correct version is also the more logical one. When two people start with incorrect assumptions, it's no surprise that their purposes become misaligned. Being "across purposes" simply makes no sense.

Lifehacker's Mind Your Language column offers bossy advice on improving your writing.


    Never mind the injustices of the world - the suffering of the poor, the hungry, the trillions spent on war, slavery, religious and ethnic intolerance, racism, mindless environmental destruction due to capitalist greed, the religious right... None of that even approaches the white hot fury you must feel when someone uses a rarely-used term incorrectly.

    It must be a slow news day.

      Good point, all of life is about what you say it is about. Thanks for pointing that out.

      Get off the computer and go protest something then you self-righteous prick.

        Dman, what is your problem if I feel bad for all the shit in the world? You don't? I guess your biggest worry in life is if you are ever going to get laid (doubtful) or how you can keep hiding all that hair that keeps growing on the palms of your hands. Now I've discovered another injustice in the world - your mother decided that an abortion like you was somehow worth being pushed out of her dried up, shriveled little see-you-next-tuesday. None of what I said in my post was about you, so I don't understand your vitriol. The psychiatrists would probably call it a 'deflection of insecurities'. I call it cowardice. So grow up you pathetic little turkey.

      Never mind the injustices of the world... none of that even approaches the white hot fury you must feel when someone writes an article you don't like.

      This is lifehacker, not the Socialist Alternative newspaper.

    Also you stuffed up its usage - it's "at cross-purposes", not "at-cross purposes". If you're going to be a pedant, proofread your own work first.

      Muphry's law strikes yet again.

        Err... *Murphy's Law

          No, I meant Muphry's law: the principle that an article about correct use of language will always contain typos.

        Maybe even Murphy's?

      Came here to write the same thing. I love reading these, there's always mistakes and it gives me perverse pleasure to highlight them.

    I looked at the article hoping to see an aquatic video of people across porpoises.

    Personally I would prefer it if we could just stick to what LH does best and leave the classroom in school where it belongs.

    I could care less. Oh wait, that doesn't make sense either. I have to say that is my absolute pet peeve.

    I've never heard anybody say 'across purposes.' I'll probably start noticing now and it'll join the other tier 2 annoyances. Tier 1 is reserved for 'aks' because there is no excuse for getting 'ask' wrong.

    It's a lost cause, Angus. For years, I internally raged at how people were misusing the word 'irony' because I thought it was just so stupid that people were trying to be smart using a word that they didn't even know the meaning of. Then I found out that I'd been using several words wrong for even longer and decided that I should just shut up. With the different types of communication and the wider geographical spread, it's inevitable that the language is going to be picking up some insensible (had to google that :) terms from now on

    Another one that really annoys me is 'pacifically' for 'specifically'. I swear I hear this at least once a day.

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