English is full of idioms and expressions, and even native English speakers commonly say or use them incorrectly. It is not hard to understand why, since languages change, and idioms and expressions can also vary by cultural background and region.
Some idioms and expressions have become accepted over time, while others started off meaning something different. And some are just erroneous 😊
Here are five embarrassing idioms and expressions even smart people misuse
- First come, first serve
The correct idiom is First come, first served. The person arriving first is being served first. The incorrect idiom suggests that the first person to arrive has to serve all who follow. It is not tennis.
- Baited breath
The correct expression is Bated breath. Bated is an adjective and it means ‘in great suspense’, ‘very anxiously or excitedly’. Thus, if you wait for something with bated breath, you wait anxiously to find out what will happen. The word ‘bated’ is not commonly used today, giving rise to ever-growing mistakes with this expression. The verb ‘bait’ is to allure, entice. So, it is clear which one is correct.
- Wet your appetite
This one is commonly used incorrectly. The correct idiom is Whet your appetite. The word ‘whet’ means to stimulate or sharpen, so whet your appetite means to have your interest in something, especially food. This idiom is also often confused with ‘wet your whistle’, which means to have a drink, especially alcohol.
While deep-seeded makes sense in a metaphorical way, Deep-seated is actually the correct phrasal adjective (usually requiring a hyphen). When you think of something deeply felt or buried, it’s not unlikely or unconvincing to think of a seed buried in the dirt. Nevertheless, deep-seated is the right choice.
- I could care less
People say they could care less when, logically, they mean They couldn’t care less. If you could care less, you are saying that there are other, less important things in the world, which is not the intended meaning. It doesn’t make a lot of sense as a phrase. If a person says, “I couldn’t care less” it means that the amount of care and concern they have about something could not be any less, any lower. Now, this makes sense.
What idioms and expressions do you regularly hear people get wrong?
About the author:
GOSUB was born from a passion and enthusiasm for subtitling and teaching.
Having started as a linguistic teacher and then moving on to become the Operations Manager of a leading subtitling agency, I used my know-how, affection, and savvy to create efficient and exciting audiovisual courses.
From my years of experience working I have learned a mountain of information about subtitling and closed captioning. I decided to couple this involvement with my other skill set, which is teaching.
GOSUB was created for you, and I hope that you will find my courses of value.
New GOSUB Grammar Transcription course coming soon!