The Blogger Abides: Words and Phrases I've Misused

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Have you ever wondered what it's like to interview famous people who are intimidatingly awesome and/or rude? Have you asked yourself, "Do bloggers wear pants?" Have you mused aloud, "How can I write words, using a computing device, for small quantities of money?" I thought so. Read on for an excerpt from the book -- this is from Frequent Offenders, which is chapter seventy-seven (I'm not kidding) in
my new opus.

Frequent Offenders

Here’s a list of words and phrases that are problematic and/or commonly misused. I hope these explanations save you from embarrassing yourself someday.

Alot

“A lot” is two words. If you write “alot” you are either misspelling “allot” (synonym: allocate) or you’re about to get kicked out of Professional Writer Club. (See also: the Alot, Allie Brosh’s imaginary creature/)

Could Care Less

A lot of people say “I could care less” when they mean “I couldn’t care less.” Think about it. Think really hard. Then start saying “couldn’t,” unless you don’t care about sounding like a doofus. (Practical note: commenters will nail you on this one, and there is no defensible case for the “incorrect” form. So, really, this one is a slam-dunk.)

Baited Breath

Imagine my surprise when I wrote a sentence like, “I’ve been waiting for the new Neal Stephenson book with baited breath,” and commenters dryly informed me that the correct spelling is “bated.” Look it up. It’s “bated breath.” Who knew? (I didn’t.)

Moot

The word “moot” is deeply problematic: part of the world thinks it means “open to debate,” the rest of the world thinks it means “not worth debating.” There is no proper way around this, so I suggest you try to stop using this word, if you intend to write for a broad audience. I wrote a post about it entitled The Meaning of the Word “Moot” is Moot. People still argued with me.

Graduated High School

You graduated from high school. You did not “graduate high school.” (Or college. Or clown college. Or whatever.) Use the “from,” otherwise people will rip you a new one.

Needs Fixed

This colloquialism (omitting “to be” in the middle of a statement) is controversial because part of the English-speaking world thinks it’s perfectly fine vernacular (which could mean it’s part of using your voice), and the other half is baffled about why you’re omitting a seemingly crucial verb. I never encountered this construction until I moved to the west coast, though I gather it’s a regional thing in many places. Anyway, I’d suggest you include all relevant verbs in your writing to avoid confusion.

Tough Road to Hoe

A lot of idioms don’t seem to make sense, particularly if you (like me) never really heard them right, and just said what you thought you heard. It’s “a tough row to hoe,” not “a tough road to hoe.” Hoeing a row is something you do in a garden. With a hoe. It’s tough. You don’t hoe a road. I think maybe I thought it was “a tough road a-ho” for a while, which also seems to mean nothing (unless perhaps that’s short for “ahoy”), but maybe in some old-timey slang from my primitive brain it means something…anyway, pro tip: when using some seemingly nonsensical idiom in your writing, Google it first to figure it out what it really is and how to write it properly.

Sewing Confusion

Sowing is another garden idiom–you sow seeds into the ground. I’m not sure if this happens before or after hoeing the row. Probably after. Anyway, watch out for the easy misspelling here–“sow” is easily mistyped as “sew.”

Myriad Plethoras

The word “plethora” traditionally has a negative connotation–so you’d say something like, “I’m pretty sure she’s crazy because she owns a plethora of cats and also never wears shoes.” In modern usage it’s often used much like “myriad,” just meaning “a lot of something”–but some readers will freak out, because of its traditional use as “a problematically large number or amount of something.” Further, the word myriad actually has a positive connotation–so you’d say something like, “Myriad stars shone from above.” (Note: debate rages over the possible uses of the word myriad. In the example just now, I used it as an adjective. It may also be used as a noun, just like plethora: “A myriad of stars shone from above.”)

In short: myriad good, plethora bad (due to quantity).

Proffered and Preferred

To proffer is to offer; to prefer is to favor. It’s easy to mistype these or have auto-correct mess it up for you.

Literally the Best Tip Ever

The word “literally” roughly means “actually.” It has a convenient antonym: “figuratively.” So while I would literally pitch a baseball, I would figuratively pitch a fit. Somehow, these two terms get mixed up in people’s brains (and to be fair, this has been going on for centuries–the word “literally” is misused in Little Women). There are whole websites devoted to the misuse of these terms. In short, if you use the term “literally” solely for emphasis, you’re probably doing it wrong.

Hopefully I Hope

This is pedantic, but get used to it–pedants will comment on your blog posts. “I hope” means what you think it means. For example, “I hope it doesn’t rain today.” However, “hopefully” is an adverb. Thus, technically speaking, “Hopefully it won’t rain today” is nonsensical. A proper use of “hopefully” would be: “The boy gazed hopefully at the bag of Halloween candy in his mother’s hands.”

Technical note: because of overwhelming common usage, “hopefully” is arguably valid in its non-adverbial form; it occupies a similar linguistic space as terms like “interestingly,” “frankly,” and “unfortunately.” I freely misuse all of those terms, but for some reason, “hopefully” does bug me.

Different From/Than/To

There are some instances of “different than” in American English, and “different to” in British English. In general, however, the best and most common form is “different from.” For example: “Joe’s haircut was different from Steve’s.” In general, I always try to use “different from,” although such esteemed authorities as the Oxford Dictionary Online suggest that all forms are equally valid. Be aware that if you write for American pedants (I mean readers), “different to” will catch the most flak.

What Did I Leave Out?

I'll eventually have to "revise and expand" this thing to cash in on lucrative paperback sales. What would you add to this list?

Now the Hard Sell

The Blogger AbidesThe book is available now for Kindle. If you don't have a Kindle, consult my website for the answer to the oft-asked question I don't have a Kindle. How can I read this? (Short answer: on your phone, tablet, web browser, Mac, PC, or smart fridge.)
 
Pro tip: if you're an Amazon Prime member and have a Kindle, you can "borrow" the book for free from your Kindle. You should do that. There's also a free preview available for anyone -- grab that from the rightmost column of the Amazon page.

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January 2, 2013 - 7:10am
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