• Annie Tucker
  • Grammergency #16: Authors’ Top Ten Misused Phrases
Grammergency #16: Authors’ Top Ten Misused Phrases
Written by
Annie Tucker
July 2015
Written by
Annie Tucker
July 2015

One of the things I like most about being an editor is my exposure to a wildly diverse array of books. Over the years, I’ve worked on everything from novels to prescriptive nonfiction to memoir to cookbooks, and I’ve learned something new from each manuscript I’ve touched.  

Despite the variability of the content I’ve edited, however, what remains a constant is authors’ misuse of certain phrases and expressions in their writing. Sometimes called eggcorns, these terms retain their original intended meaning but employ the wrong words to do so. I’ve been keeping a tally of the ten most common examples of these errors, and while I’m no etymologist, I’d love to know where things went awry for the following:

1) Incorrect: I could care less

Correct: I couldn’t care less. Just think about it—if you could care less, that means you care more than you want to. If you really don’t care about something, you couldn’t possibly care any less about it.

2) Incorrect: all of the sudden

Correct: all of a sudden. If you don’t know which article to use—a or the—just stick with suddenly.

3) Incorrect: center around

Correct: center on or revolve around. The incorrect version forms an illogical hybrid of a verb connoting a precise point with a preposition connoting circularity, while either of the correct options pairs a verb with a more applicable preposition.

4) Incorrect: case and point

Correct: case in point. Since 1722, according to Merriam-Webster, this phrase has meant “an illustrative, relevant, or pertinent case.” In this scenario, the point in question makes the whole case clear.

5) Incorrect: pour over

Correct: pore over. This comes down to a simple spelling error. Pour means “to flow or move continuously in a steady stream,” and pore means “to gaze intently; to read or study attentively.”

6) Incorrect: one in the same

Correct: one and the same. This expression uses repetition to make its point. One and the same are synonyms in this context; one is not subsumed in the same to suggest part of something bigger.

7) Incorrect: equally as [adjective]

Correct: equally [adjective]. As Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage explains, “The reason equally as is considered redundant is that either equally or as can stand alone in most of the contexts in which the phrase is used.”

8) Incorrect: flush out

Correct: flesh out. Flush out means “to cause to flow,” whereas flesh out means “to give substance to” or “to make fuller or more nearly complete.”

9) Incorrect: low and behold

Correct: lo and behold. These two spellings designate entirely different parts of speech with entirely distinct meanings. Low is, among other things, an adjective meaning “not rising or extending upward a great distance”; lo is an interjection “used to call attention to something or to show wonder or surprise.”

10) Incorrect: for all intensive purposes

Correct: for all intents and purposes. Just as one and the same in example #6 are used synonymically, so are intents and purposes in this expression; both refer to “things that you plan to do or achieve.”

Have a grammar question? Leave it in the comments below.

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  • all are nice great post i like the 8th one

  • Tonya Rice

    This isn't a phrase NOR is it a word and it drives me bananas: "Irregardless". Arrgh! It cancels itself out - unfortunately not completely; it's still used.

  • Wow! Great post, Annie! Love it!

  • Pamela Fender

    Great post. I love the first one. It reminds me of my first husband, because he went nuts hearing people say they could care less. "Oh, really? So you care some?"

    Keep these posts coming; I love them.

  • Beth Morgan

    I think I can honestly say there are nine (2-10) mistakes I would not make. I might make the first one, but probably only speaking. Hopefully, we are allowed a few colloquialisms. However, I agree "toadally"! And Susan Walberg's note about "taking it for granite!" That one kills me. Sad how many allegedly literate people make these mistakes, writers or not. My new Kindle allows me to report "typos" and the like instantaneously, and I use it all the time. With spellcheck and all the technological assists we have these days, we sometimes depend on them too much, with laughable results. A dictionary of idioms can be extremely valuable, too.

  • Thank you for this valuable  information. I knew about the couldn't care less and the lo and behold because I use them in my stories. I will certainly keep this in my notes on writing. 

  • Suzanne Hoffman

    The one that is nails on a chalkboard for me is "fact of the matter is....." I hear it more than I read it....and by seasonable broadcast journalists and talking heads who should know better. 

  • Annie Tucker

    Thank you all so much for your supportive comments and your sense of humor! 

  • AR Neal

    I wanted to pass out at 'all of the sudden' -- what is that? It makes me laugh and gag at the same time :)

  • Marcia Riley

    A nice list - thanks for sharing (smile).

    Connected by the written word,

    Marcia/USA-Atlanta, GA

  • Patricia Robertson

    However . . . In dialogue these common errors can be used to tell us something about that person. :)

  • Susan Walberg

    These are great, and drive me nuts, too!  Also, my pet peeves:  'take it for granite', instead of granted.  And misusing assure and ensure.  In my 'day job', those words come up a lot, and are misused by the lawyers, the executives, in government documents, everywhere.  Does that drive anyone else crazy, or am I just too much of a geek?

  • Jenna Sauber

    I'm sorry, but I cannot help but laugh at these ridiculous mistakes, which I see ALL THE TIME. Some of them are so bad that it seems impossible that they exist. But hey, you wouldn't need to post this list if folks weren't in need of a reminder!

  • Love this post.  

    What about, "The argument is mute."  Should be "the argument is moot."

  • I, too, enjoyed this post. I particularly liked, "flush out" — a world of difference from "flesh out."

  • Loved this! Thanks for posting. Particularly liked, "for all intensive purposes." I teach middle school and it's common for me to find, "I take it for granite . . ."