More Words You’re Probably Using Wrong

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From Writer Unboxed:

I see you, word nerds. I know who you are. You’re the ones who can’t drive by a billboard with a grammar mistake (“In a class of it’s own”) without visibly cringing. Who have memes like this as your screen saver. Who keep Dreyer’s English in your nightstand and regularly reread and analyze passages like it’s the King James Bible.

I see you, and I feel you.

As an editor I may or may not derive an inordinate amount of amusement from malapropisms, dangling modifiers, quotation marks misused for emphasis that call the author’s “authority” into question, and comically clumsily translated signs like these…but I know I am not alone.

A few posts ago I wrote about words you’re probably using wrong, and from the comments it seemed to hit a chord with my fellow word nerds, so here’s another ridiculous helping of word nerdery to delight you, enlighten you, and perhaps let you bask in superiority, chortling at those poor benighted fools who violate the vernacular. (Spoiler, though—judging from my 15 years at the beginning of my editing career as a Big Six copyeditor, that’s most of us at some time or another.)

Misusing our language commits a cardinal sin of writing, which is to muddy your intentions and the readers’ experience of your story. Knowing how to use the main tool of our business, language, allows you to be a more effective storyteller.

So with that lofty goal in mind…let’s get down and nerdy with it.

Picking Apart Parts of Speech

You don’t “feel badly” for someone, unless you’re trying to have a feeling for them and you just can’t swing it; you simply feel bad for them. (Probably because of their substandard grammar, I’m betting.)

And you don’t cap a list of progressively important things with “most importantly,” unless you’re saying it with the air of a self-satisfied douchebag—it’s just “most important.”

I might wonder hopefully if you already knew that, but I wouldn’t write “Hopefully you knew that” unless I’m referring to the optimistic quality of your knowing.

Something can be “on top of” something else, or “over it,” or even “over-the-top” (as this post, in fact, could be accused of being), but not “overtop” unless you’re using it as a colloquialism in a character’s point of view. “Overtop” is not a preposition, any more than “underbottom” or “throughmiddle” are.

While we’re on the topic, “any more” referring to quantity should be two words, not one, in usages such as the last sentence. “Anymore” is only for time, despite that for some philistines these usages are supposedly interchangeable (but never supposably).

My examples have taken a turn for the worse—which is a worst-case scenario for some readers, if worse comes to worst.

If you haven’t as yet tuned out (never “as of yet”—but you already knew that, didn’t you?), let’s move on to other troubling misusages.

Fallacious phraseology

If you’re offering someone an ARC of your book, it’s an advance copy, not an advanced one (unless you are distinguishing it from a remedial edition you give to your less erudite friends).

If you’re letting it all hang out you’re buck naked, not butt naked (no matter how intuitive the latter may seem, given the fundamental involvement of one’s derriere). And no judgments if you do like to get nakey­ on the regular—that’s perfectly all right (but never alright).

Less refers to amount; fewer to number. For that matter, “number” delineates the numeric quantity of something, and “amount” its volume. By this time, though, maybe you couldn’t care less (not “fewer,” of course)—not “could care less,” because if you can still care even less than you already do, there’s work to be done yet in getting you good and fed up.

If you’re lousy with cash, you may be flush, but you’re flushed only if you’re also feeling embarrassed about it, or overheated from earning it. (Or if the school bully has shoved your head into the toilet to take it from you.)

On that note, you may flush out something from your eye, but if you’re expanding on a topic (such as flushing), then you’re fleshing it out—even though that sounds like the scene of a grisly murder (but not a gristly one, unless the corpse is also quite tough to the tooth). That might land you in dire straits (not straights, unless you’re around a bunch of nihilistic heterosexuals).

I’ve taken a tortuous route to arrive at some of these metaphors…which might be feeling torturous to some of you. So shall we move on to a final lightning round?

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

Is PG alone in hitting a grammatical speed bump with phraseology?

For PG, the suffix, ology, implies the study of something or a discrete area of knowledge. Archeology, psychology, etc., etc.

If that’s correct, phraseology would be the study of phrasing. Improper Phrasing or Improper Use of Phrases would seem to PG to be a better option for the term as used in the OP.

PG decided to see what Grammarly thought about the OP.

Grammarly found 24 grammatical errors in the OP, written by an experienced New York publishing editor, but Big G expressed no opinion about phraseology.

It appears that PG’s attitude toward phraseology is incorrect, archaic, antiquated and/or superannuated. Apparently, the fog in PG’s brain is a bit thicker than usual today. He blames the aftereffects of the Covid shut-downs.

5 thoughts on “More Words You’re Probably Using Wrong”

  1. Don’t worry.

    Anything you’re using wrong will be standard parlance in a few years, and probably in an online ‘dictionary’ sooner. And you will be forced to live in the same world with people who use alot and alright (note that the second one didn’t even get the red dots under it – already!).


    And those of us who know how to use its and it’s – and use them in our novels – will be dinosaur unicorns.

    • Languages evolve.
      It wasn’t that long ago that “disrespect” was lumped in with ebonics.
      Still, I’m sure there’s folks out there who gripe over contractions and okay. 😉

    • Or, as is the case with several of the miscorrections offered in the linked piece, the usages were standard all along and someone came along, decided that they were wrongety wrong wrong because reasons, and persuaded others to go complain about them.

  2. I was open to the possibility that the linked post was satire, but sadly, this appears not to be the case. It mostly is a routine regurgitation of uninformed peeves. I did learn something new, however. The preposition “overtop” is not part of my idiolect and I had not previously encountered it. The writer’s claim that it is not a preposition in any general sense is trivially easily disproved. This construction appears in several reputable dictionaries.

    As for PG’s reaction to “phraseology,” -ology forms often take on an extended meaning, from the study of the subject to subject being studied. Picking a sentence from Wikipedia: “The geology of Africa is varied and complex, and gives rise to the wide variety of landscapes found across the continent.” Those landscapes aren’t caused by all those geologists studying them.

    Also, Merriam Webster gives “choice of words” as sense 2 of “phraseology.” This is a bog standard usage, following a bog standard semantic patter.

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