“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means,” says Mandy Patinkin’s character, Inigo Montoya. Does it annoy you when people commit word-usage errors? If not, you might want to skip this post. Then again, you might benefit from this one, because communicating well is what writing is all about and if you’re fine with people using the wrong word in their writing, then you probably make word-usage errors, too.
Word-usage errors hinder your ability to communicate well. The world has far too many writers who are apathetic about making and leaving mistakes in their writing. If you want to be a good writer, you should care about word-usage errors. Take a playful attitude about it if you’d like (as I did with the Princess Bride quote above), and enjoy the humor that can be found in it (see below), but take it seriously enough to get it right when you write.
Using a noun as a verb
Word-usage errors are really annoying, but they may also be job security for editors—at least as long as enough people care (sadly, that number is dwindling daily, it seems). Sometimes nouns can become verbs; a living language is in flux and new verbs are created all the time. That’s not what I’m referring to here. I’m talking about using the wrong word out of ignorance or apathy.
“Workout” is a noun. It is a thing. It’s an abstract thing as opposed to a concrete object, but it’s a thing nonetheless. You don’t workout. That’s like saying, “I’m going to language now.” No. Just no. You’re going to speak now. The compound word “work out” takes nearly twice as long to say as “workout” does. Try saying, “I’m going to workout now” and then “I’m going to work out now.” Do you hear the difference in speed?
“Setup” is a noun. It is a thing. Your setup looks great. “Set up” is a verb. Go to this link to set up your account. Not setup your account.
“Login” is a noun. My login works fine. “Log in” is a verb. To log in, go to…
“Checkout” is a noun. The employee went to the checkout to help customers. “Check out” is a verb. Don’t check out just yet.
Examples of word-usage errors
There are several different kinds of word usage errors, and it’s not my purpose to write an exhaustive list of the different kinds. Here are just a few malapropisms for your edification.
“Pacifically”should be “specifically.”
“All and all” should be “all in all.”
“For all intensive purposes” should be “for all intents and purposes.” I chuckle when I hear this one. Not for all purposes, just all of the intensive ones.
“Abject lesson” should be “object lesson.” It’s not a horrible lesson; it’s a practical one.
“Bad wrap” or “bad rep” should be “bad rap.”
“Beckon call” should be “beck and call.” A beck is a nonverbal signal (a nod or wave) intended to bring someone to oneself, and a call is a verbal one.
“Day in age” should be “day and age.”
“Taken for granite” should be “taken for granted.” Something was mistaken for a rock?
“Deep-seeded” is actually “deep-seated” and should be “deeply-seated.”
“Doggy-dog” should be “dog-eat-dog.”
“Far be it for me” should be “far be it from me.”
“Hare’s breath” should be hair’s breadth. This one just makes me laugh. “The stalker was a hare’s breath away…”
“Could of” is the bad-grammar cousin to “could’ve” or “could have.”
“Must of” should be “must’ve” or “must have.”
“Should of” is “should’ve” or “should have.”
“Neck in neck” is just disgusting. It should be “neck and neck,” meaning two people or things are in close competition with each other.
“For the love of all things holey,” I’m not sure what holey things one might love…colanders, perhaps. I certainly appreciate colanders. It’s “for the love of all things holy.”
“Handing glove” or “hand and glove” should be “hand in glove,” a term meaning two people who fit very well together.
“On tenderhooks” is a mishearing for “on tenterhooks.” A tenter was a wooden frame for stretching cloth, and it had hooked nails called tenterhooks. Saying “on pins and needles” would convey a similar meaning: waiting in tense and uncomfortable anticipation.
“One in the same” This just doesn’t make any kind of sense to me. The phrase is “one and the same,” meaning that something has both—often seemingly disparate—characteristics being mentioned: “The baby’s mother and murderer were one and the same (person).” Sorry for the grisly example.
“Hard road to hoe” should be “hard row to hoe,” and is one of the many idioms inspired by farm life.
“Butt naked” should be “buck naked.” I’ll just leave you with that mental image and say please avoid word-usage errors whenever you can. Look it up, ask a knowledgeable friend, or message your editor. Don’t give yourself or your reader “a hard road to hoe” and “for the love of all things holey,” do a good job with your writing.