In the past, we have taken a look at some common sayings that most of us use in day-to-day speech, but many of us use them incorrectly. This can be because we have misheard them, or maybe because they contain a word we have never heard of, or maybe they simply make more sense to us that way. Regardless of the reason (or, dare we say, irregardless), these erroneous expressions have made their way into the common lexicon and, in some cases, have become even more popular than the original, correct sayings.
And guess what? There are plenty more where those came from, so today we are taking a look at 10 more of them.
10. Mute Point
During an argument or debate, if someone makes a statement that is irrelevant to the subject at hand, it might get dismissed as a mute point. Or, if you want to be correct, you would dismiss it as a moot point because that is the right expression.
The term mute point is an eggcorn, which is a misheard word or phrase that sounds similar to the words it replaces and even retains its original meaning. The most popular eggcorns can sometimes become more common than their correct counterparts, and this is mainly due to two reasons. One – the eggcorn still makes some sense. And two – the original phrase contains an antiquated word that most people would be unfamiliar with.
Both reasons apply in this case. You can see why someone would think that an irrelevant point would be “muted,” or silenced. At the same time, the right word “moot” has been around for a thousand years, since the times of the Anglo-Saxons, but nowadays it is mainly used in law, so your average person will not encounter it too many times in their everyday lives.
9. Beckon Call
If you make yourself available to serve someone at a moment’s notice, day or night, you might say that you are at their beck and call. However, some people might be under the misapprehension that you are, in fact, at their beckon call.
The latter is another example of an eggcorn. In this context, the word “beckon” does make some sense, since it means to attract someone’s attention with a gesture. However, the idiom’s biggest problem is that the real-world “beck” has become obsolete. It is a “fossil word,” meaning that it has fallen completely out of use in modern English, but still appears in phrases and idioms.
In other words, you are highly unlikely to ever use the word “beck” outside of the phrase beck and call, unless you are debating whether Odelay or Mellow Gold was the better album.
8. Escape Goat
Someone who takes the blame for something that wasn’t really their fault is often described as a scapegoat. The term comes from the English translation of the Old Testament. In the Book of Leviticus 16:8, Aaron takes two goats. While the first is sacrificed outright, the other one, which is the scapegoat, is sent into the wilderness carrying the sins of the Israelites so that it may be punished instead of them.
Meanwhile, escape goat is yet another eggcorn, even though, in this particular case, the correct and incorrect phrases mean the exact same thing. “Scape” is just an old-fashioned way of saying “escape,” and if we want to be extra pedantic, we can point out that scapegoat itself was an English mistranslation from Hebrew. Originally, it said “Azazel,” the name of a demon which was wrongly translated as “ez ozel,” meaning “goat that departs.” This mistranslation remained in use for centuries. Nowadays both the Contemporary English and the American Standard versions of the Bible have changed it back to “Azazel,” but the scapegoat isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
If you managed to escape a situation without any repercussions, you might say that you got off scot-free, although many use the erroneous alternative scotch-free. Some use the second version because they might have heard it incorrectly, while others purposely avoid the expression scot-free because they fear it might be derogatory towards Scottish people.
If you are among them, you may rest easy. The saying has nothing to do with Scots or with scotch. In medieval England, “scot” was the name for a tax, defined in the Middle English Compendium as “payment for food or drink at a social gathering.” It was derived from the even older Norse word “skot,” and someone who managed to wriggle his way out of paying the tax was described as being scot-free.
6. Chomping at the Bit
Someone who is restless or shows a lack of restraint can be described as “chomping at the bit,” or as the original saying went, “champing at the bit.” This is a situation where the incorrect idiom has become so widely used that even some dictionaries have started recognizing it as an acceptable variation of the original.
The problem is that the verb “champ” is a fossil word, meaning that it has become mostly obsolete outside of it being used in idioms and phrases. In this particular case, the saying “champing at the bit” is the only place where you are likely to hear this archaic word which was used to refer to the grinding of a horse’s teeth. The expression itself dates to the early 19th century and comes from horseracing, where the bit was a piece of iron that was part of the bridle and inserted into the horse’s mouth to help control him.
Restless horses often chewed on their bits, hence the expression, but it seems that even the experts are ready to embrace the modern version which uses the verb “chomp.”
5. Say Your Peace
Let’s say you’ve just had an argument with someone and you’ve spoken about everything that was on your mind. Did you just say your piece or did you say your peace?
It’s the first one – say your piece, not say your peace. A little confusing, we know. You can probably see how the mix-up happened since the two words are homophones- they are pronounced the same, but have different meanings. Then there is also the similar, but unrelated idiom hold your peace, which means to stay quiet and keep your objections to yourself. That’s the expression we hear in every wedding scene on television, and that one does use the word “peace” instead of “piece,” which further confounds the matter.
So if you want to speak up, then it is “piece,” but if you intend to stay quiet, then the correct word is “peace.” And we hope that clears everything up.
Here is one example that is a bit more straightforward, even though we are dealing with two homophones again: shoe, as in the footwear, and shoo, as in the verb meaning to scare something away by shouting and waving your arms about. If we want to refer to someone or something as a guaranteed winner, we might call them a shoo-in, or maybe a shoe-in.
In this particular case, the second spelling is simply incorrect. Some people might reason that it refers to something fitting as well as a foot in a shoe, which makes it a pretty good eggcorn because not only does it sound like the original saying, but it also retains some of the meaning.
The correct version, however, is shoo-in, using the verb “shoo.” The idiom dates back to the 1930s and comes from horse racing again. Back then, whenever jockeys fixed a race, they would hold back their own horses and “shoo” along the winner in the final stretch. Therefore, a shoo-in referred to someone guaranteed to come out on top, although it also had an implication of cheating or dishonesty that no longer exists today.
3. Blow a Casket
Just to be clear, if you have a leaf blower, a coffin, and some free time on your hands, you could literally blow a casket. However, you cannot metaphorically blow a casket, meaning to lose your temper and react furiously because the correct expression is to blow a gasket.
In this case, it is a little strange that the incorrect saying is so pervasive since the wrong expressions with true staying power are the ones that either retain the original meaning or make sense on their own. In this case, blowing a casket is pretty nonsensical, while blowing a gasket is a relatively common engine problem.
The confusion probably stems from the fact that many people who are not mechanically inclined do not know the word “gasket,” meaning a piece of rubber or other soft material fitted in a joint to prevent fluids from escaping. When a gasket fails, the effect is usually immediate and energetic, so the saying makes perfect sense, but those who are unfamiliar with it simply replaced the word with a similar one they have heard of, and that’s how they ended up blowing a casket.
2. Tongue and Cheek
If you say something humorous or sarcastic, but deliver it in a serious manner, you could say that you delivered the line tongue in cheek. But make sure that if you do use the expression, you place that tongue firmly in the cheek, because if you say tongue and cheek, as many people do, then you are just listing off body parts.
Switching “in” to “and” seems like a pretty easy and minor mistake to make, but the expression only makes sense if the tongue is in the cheek since that is what people physically did to show the sarcasm or humor in their statement. In fact, originally it was meant to show contempt for the other person. The practice makes an appearance in Tobias Smollett’s 1748 novel The Adventures of Roderick Random, where the main character signifies his disdain for a cowardly passenger by “thrusting [his] tongue in [his] cheek, which humbled him so much, that he scarce swore another oath aloud during the whole journey.”
Over the decades, the meaning of the physical act changed, and by the mid-19th century, the phrase had made its way into various poems and novels with its modern connotation.
1. For All Intensive Purposes
We finish up today’s list with a look at the expression for all intents and purposes, meaning “for all practical purposes,” which is way too often misused as for all intensive purposes.
The correct expression is almost 500 years old, dating back to an Act of Parliament in Britain which gave King Henry VIII the power to interpret laws “to all intents, constructions, and purposes.” It seemed like the British people liked the saying so they continued using it, mainly in legal documents, although they dropped the “constructions” part for whatever reason. Then, when the expression made its way to America, it was changed one more time to “for all intents” instead of “to all intents.”
The eggcorn variation “for all intensive purposes” is much younger than that, although the earliest recorded examples still date to the 1870s, so this is one error that has been around for a while and probably will not go away anytime soon.