In the immortal words of Mike Tyson after losing a fight, “I might just fade into Bolivian.” Tyson was answering a reporter’s question about where he would go next in his career — and he meant that state of being blissfully unconscious or unaware of what’s happening, or “oblivion.” Oops.
The English language, and the people who use it, is full of malapropisms like Tyson’s. (Google defines a malapropism as, “the mistaken use of a word in place of a similar-sounding one, often with unintentionally amusing effect, as in, for example, “dance a flamingo” (instead of flamenco).”
Many of us are already aware of the most common things people say wrong such as: “for all intensive purposes,” “I could care less,” “could of” (instead of “could have”) and “irregardless.” (Yes, even though irregardless is in the dictionary because people have been saying it wrong for so long, it is still a nonstandard and non-preferred version of regardless. To quote Merriam-Webster, “Remember that a definition is not an endorsement of a word’s use.”)
Here, we take a deeper dive on malapropisms. For edification, because we’ve written about the most common offenders before, and because we deserve to enjoy when state leaders such as Texas Governor Rick Perry say things like, “We need to look at the states, which are lavatories of innovation and democracy.” Behold, some lesser known, but no less misused English turns of phrase:
“To make a concertive effort:” The correct phrase is a “concerted effort;” meaning one that was planned, coordinated, or performed in unison, like a concert.
“A whole ‘nother story:” A ‘nother, though it’s been said many millions of times, isn’t a real word. The correct phrase is “a whole other story” “a whole different story” or “another story.”
“Does anyone have any antidotes to share?” Unless you just witnessed a venomous snake bite and you are canvassing for life-saving medicine, what you mean to say is “Does anyone have any anecdotes” or, short, amusing stories.
“Gun-ho:” Gun-ho, gun-ho, it’s off to work we go…wait, no. That’s not a song. What people mean to say when they want to indicate someone is very excited or enthusiastic about something is “gung ho.”
“In tack:” When you want to say that someone left a brawl with their limbs, or self-esteem none too damaged, they left that brawl intact.
“At nauseam:” When someone blathers on about the same subject, they are speaking about it to an excessive or sickening degree (hence the reference to nausea). This is what’s known in Latin as ad nauseam.
“Half hazard:” So there’s not a full hazard here, only a half? OK, got it. (While this word would be kind of cool, actually, it doesn’t exist.) When you want to say something is lacking organisation, it’s haphazard.
“Run the gambit:” A gambit is a chess move — or any somewhat risky action or remark calculated to gain an advantage. (A Gambit is also one of the X-Men.) Options don’t “run the gambit” they run the gamut aka, the the complete range or scope of something.
“In lame man’s terms:” When something is explained in a way anyone could understand, the correct phrase is in layman’s terms — meaning, without any specialised language. (A layman, traditionally, being a non clergyman.) Making an explanation overly complicated? That’s lame, man.
“Pre-Madonna:” There’s no such thing as Pre-Madonna. (My bad. It’s actually a collection of demos released by a dude Madonna dated in 1980.) If you mean to say someone is acting like a temperamental egotist, they are acting like a prima donna. The phrase comes from the Italian opera scene.
“Expresso:” Repeat after me: There’s no “x” in espresso. There’s no “x” in espresso. There’s no “x” in espresso! There. You’re cured.
“Undoubtably:” If something is certain and undoubted, it is undoubtedly so.
“Supposably:” No. It’s supposedly. (Referring to something that is “supposed” or generally assumed or believed.)
“Safety deposit box:” The reason it’s called a safe deposit box is because you can make a safe deposit there.
“Fall by the wasteside:” While “wasteside” could, and possibly should be a word, it is not. The expression meaning to fail to continue or drop out is to “fall by the wayside” — wayside being the side of a road.
“On tender hooks:” To wait nervously for something to happen is to be on tenterhooks, which references an old method of drying cloth by stretching it taut across a large wooden frame or “tenter.”
“By in large:” While this one is hard to detect in someone’s speaking, the correct phrase when trying to say “on the whole” is is by and large.
“To be weary of someone:” This one’s a doozy. While you can grow weary (become exhausted) of someone or something, if you’re sceptical or cautious due to a perceived danger, you are wary. (To be wary is to beware.) E.g. “Be wary of Jack. He’s a player.” (P.S. You can also be leery of someone, which means the same as wary, but unfortunately rhymes with weary.) English is fun.