I COULDN’T HELP it, a half-snicker, half-groan rattled in my throat. Beside me on the subway, the two girls stopped talking and glanced over. I forced a fake cough, trying to brush off my snort-laugh as a flu related noise.
The girls were high school aged, doodle covered notebooks in their laps. One held a copy of Pride and Prejudice. I wondered what ol’ Jane would have thought of an ugly non-word like “irregardless.”
As a writer, English teacher, and all-around grammar tightass, nothing raises my hackles like a garbled expression, plopped smugly into a conversation by someone no doubt trying to impress their listeners. World-wind? Supposably? I shudder. I judge you. I’ll probably tell people about it later.
You can argue that the rules of English are nebulous and vary by continent. You can argue that it’s pretty jerky to correct someone’s grammar while they’re trying to make a point. Still, these errors are distracting and can make you the unwitting butt of jokes (George W’s “misunderestimated,” anyone?)
Below, seven slip-ups I never want to hear again.
You say: Ironical
You mean: Ironic
I see what’s going on. You look at words like medical or tropical and see a pattern, right? Don’t you know that the English language is a fickle and inconsistent beast? That for every rule, there are 20 exceptions? In this case, “ironic” works just fine on its own as an adjective. Just think of the Alanis Morissette song as a point of reference. Except if you’re trying to define irony. In that case, don’t listen to her.
You say: it’s a doggy dog world
You mean: it’s a dog eat dog world
When I was in high school, a story rippled through the female student body about a boy who dumped his girlfriend by passing her a note explaining that “it’s a doggy dog world.” Over a decade later, my friends and I still laugh about it.
Please don’t be a jackass like that poor guy whose 15-year-old self lives in infamy. Dog eat dog world is a grim image of savage ruthlessness. Doggy dog world sounds like an SNL skit about Paris Hilton’s chihuahua.
You say: could care less
You mean: couldn’t care less
This error is the subject of a beautiful David Mitchell rant and a personal peeve of mine.
If you could care less, that means you care just a little bit. If you have 0% of caring, then there is no quantity of caring lesser than yours and you could NOT care less. Just like a vegan can say “I couldn’t eat less steak,” or a nun can say “I couldn’t be less sexually active,” someone who doesn’t care one bit can say “I couldn’t care less.”
“Susie couldn’t care less about Project Runway” means she’s totally indifferent to the show. “Susie could care less about Project Runway” means she cares in some quantifiable way about the program. No judgement, Susie.
You say: actual fact
You mean: fact
Why use one word when you can cobble two synonyms together? Double impact! Or should I say, double times two impact! What, that’s more confusing than effective? Yep. Lesson learned, gang.
Of course a fact is actual. If it were supposed or alleged, it wouldn’t be a fact at all, but a speculation. Is this nitpicking? Perhaps, but students, bloggers, and all writers take note: these redundancies are clutter, and detract from what you’re trying to say. Bear this in mind whenever you’re tempted to say final conclusion, added bonus, or blend together.
You say: for all intensive purposes
You mean: for all intents and purposes
A classic case of parroting, this is. It’s the same ear-to-brain slipup that has people singing Jimi Hendrix lyrics as “excuse me while I kiss this guy.”
But think, please. Intensive purposes? You mean, purposes that are exceptionally concentrated? Huh? It makes no sense, and it makes you sound like the type of chump who memorizes brainy quips from The Daily Show and pass them off as your own.
The good news about this slip is that, unless you’re talking to a pragmatics tightass, your error will likely go unnoticed when said aloud. But written out? When you’re trying to sound smartypants in a witty Tweet or work document? End game, tiger.
You say: escape goat
You mean: scapegoat
News outlets can’t get enough of this buzzword. Was Wayne Rooney a scapegoat for England’s World Cup failure? Are banks just a scapegoat for politicians’ mismanagement? The term is Biblical in origin, referring to a ritual in which, yes, there was a real live goat. In modern usage, though, the term refers to a person or group taking unmerited blame. There is no goat, or literal escape.
“Escape goat” should only be used in the rarest of circumstances: if the cheesy joke in your Daily Word Jumble is “When the getaway car wouldn’t start, how did the livestock thieves flee the scene of the crime?”
You say: momentarily, for something that will happen soon
You mean: shortly or in a moment
“Momentarily” means that something will happen for a moment only. If you mean to say that something will happen soon, just say “soon.” There’s no shame in monosyllabic words.
The maid of honor’s racist knock-knock joke left the crowd momentarily speechless. Fine. They were speechless for a moment. The moment passed. Speech resumed.
Attention passengers. We will be serving dinner momentarily.
Nuh-uh. That means you will serve dinner, but only for a small increment of time. Unless there’s an airline I don’t know about with mega-speedy food service, I think you’re using the word incorrectly.