10 Phrases You’re Probably Saying Wrong


1. Prostrate Cancer

This one goes hand in hand (er… well… goes along with) “anticdote.” Prostate cancer is experienced by thousands of individuals annually. Prostrate (note the “r”) has to do with being flat on the ground.


2. First-Come, First-Serve

I know, I know, you’re probably well aware that it’s actually first served and it’s just verbal shorthand. But… prove to everyone else that you know it, and you just might help them realize they don’t want to be asking the first people there to serve everyone else.


3. Sneak Peak

Fun with homophones! Peak, Peek, and Pique are three different words. A peak is the top of a mountain. A peek is a quick look (what you’re sneaking). And pique is what you storm away in a fit of, or perhaps something “piqued your interest.”


4. Deep-Seeded

This one sounds like it could be correct! Something planted very deeply as a seed would have roots and be hard to eradicate! But when it comes to language, logic is sometimes the great betrayer. What you’re actually thinking of is “Deep seated”, and it means firmly established.


5. Extract Revenge

If revenge were a potion and someone had stolen yours and you needed to retrieve it by squeezing, what you’d doing is exacting revenge.


6. Shoe-in

This is the location of your Birkenstocks, right? Because “shoo-in” is a guarantee.


7. Emigrated to

In this current state of difficulty for immigrants and emigrants alike, the least we can all do—I mean the absolute bare minimum—is to learn that you immigrate to a place, and emigrate from a place. Let the origin or the destination guide whether you emphasize it.


8. Baited Breath

Think of it this way—what do fisherpeople use for bait? It all smells gross, right? You wouldn’t want that on your breath. But you might hold it for a minute if the bait got near you—in other words it would have abated. Thusly, bated breath is breath that is held in anticipation.


9. 10 Items or Less

This one drives me batty in checkout lines all over the country. Less is for liquids. If you can measure it by moving your thumb and forefinger closer or apart, it’s less. If it’s anything you can count (like the items in your grocery cart), for “not as many,” it’s fewer.


10. Over 50 billion served

Though we could parse who they’ve served and how well they’ve done it, what McDs means is more than. Think of the cow jumping over (i.e. above) the moon. She probably saw more than 50 billion stars up there!


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About the author

Miranda Pennington

Miranda K. Pennington is a freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared on The Toast, The American Scholar, and the Ploughshares Writing Blog. She currently teaches creative nonfiction for Uptown Stories, a Morningside Heights nonprofit organization. She has an MFA from Columbia University, where she has also taught in the University Writing program and consulted in the Writing Center.

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