5 Most Commonly Misused Phrases
The way we express ourselves is extremely important. Even more so when engaged in (professional) writing. When we use a phrase or expression incorrectly, whether we like it or not, our ignorance comes to light. To avoid such situations, go through our little guide on the 5 most commonly misused phrases. It will help you learn the correct way to use some of the most common expressions.
1. “pique my interest” vs. “peak my interest”
Pique is a French word. It originates from the mid-16th century.
Piquer means “to prick, sting, pierce.”
Synonyms: Inspire, Attract, Interest, Motivate, Excite, Intrigue, Enthuse, Dazzle.
When something piques your interest, it has your attention. It makes you interested or curious. However, when your interest is piqued, you are interested in learning more about whatever excited you in the first place.
- The invention piqued the interest of other directors who have subsequently utilized it in their own movies.
- She piqued his interest in the theater and took him to see performances often.
Pique can be used (in British English) to mean “to arouse anger or resentment in.”
- Their rudeness piqued me.
But, it is most often our interest or curiosity that gets piqued. Pique is also used to mean “to take pride in oneself,” as in the following sentence,
- She piques herself on her acting skills.
(noun) – the pointed top of a mountain;
(verb) – reach the highest point, either of a specified value or at a specified time;
(adjective) – at the highest level; maximum.
Since peak means the top, the highest point, the maximum, it is easy to understand how people tend to confuse it with pique, as in the following example:
- I nearly always notice something different that will peak my curiosity.
Knowing what we know, the phrase “pique my interest” is not talking about the moment when your excitement about something reaches its high point. It simply refers to the moment when something grabs your attention. Spurs your curiosity.
2. “toe the line” vs. “tow the line”
You have probably heard someone say, “Toe your mark, get set, go!”
It is easy to visualize a person ready for a race with toes on the starting line. But what is the true meaning of this phrase?
The expression toe the line is commonly used to refer to doing what is expected of you. Meet a standard, abide by the rules, conform. It can also mean being right up against the line between two different things.
According to Wikipedia: “Toe the line” is an idiomatic expression meaning either to conform to a rule or standard or to stand poised at the starting line in a footrace. Other phrases which were once used in the early 1800s and have the same meaning were “toe the mark” and “toe the plank”.
- If you want to get ahead, you’d better learn to toe the line.
- We need to toe the line between maintaining our claim against them and avoiding exposing ourselves to further liability.
“Toe the line” is often misspelled “tow the line”. A familiar verb “tow” is substituted for the unfamiliar verbal use of “toe.” Since “tow” does not agree with any of the proposed etymologies, it represents a linguistic eggcorn.
Tow means to drag or pull. Theoretically, you can pull a line of rope, for example, but doing so does not capture the sense of this expression.
- The town tows abandoned cars and then fines their owners.
Tow the line is unfortunately a very common mistake.
- People who tow the line between extroverts and introverts, tend to be the most successful salespeople.
3.”peace of mind” vs. “piece of mind”
Peace of mind is a very common phrase and represents a feeling of being safe or protected.
Here are some examples:
- This was reflected in attitudes, feeling emotionally more comfortable, enjoying peace of mind, having security, or not having to worry.
- All three of the evaluation groups reported similar null effects, as for the levels of stress, peace of mind, and the time available for themselves.
Piece of mind, on the other hand, is incorrect. However, it is easy to understand why many tend to make the mistake. The expression “to give someone a piece of your mind,” is also well known. It means scolding someone or being openly critical so that your dissatisfaction is abundantly clear. You can give someone a “piece of your mind” when you are angry, irritated, and critical, but if the goal is to achieve “peace of mind”, the correct phrase should be used.
4.”tongue-in-cheek” vs. “tongue and cheek”
Tongue-in-cheek: an ironic, flippant, or insincere way.
: characterized by insincerity, irony, or whimsical exaggeration.
The phrase originally expressed contempt. In the middle of the 19th century, it had acquired its modern meaning. The earliest use of the phrase includes Sir Walter Scott’s print of The Fair Maid of Perth (1828).
This expression is also used in a way to signify joking or sarcasm.
- The tongue-in-cheek remark was not meant to be taken seriously, but Sarah was easily offended.
- Amid a torrent of criticism he apologized, claiming that his comment was “clearly tongue in cheek” and taken out of context.
Tongue and cheek is often a mishearing of tongue-in-cheek. By using the phrase tongue and cheek, you will not express either sarcasm or humor.
The example showing this error:
- There are a lot of people calling themselves witches in a political way, in a tongue and cheek way.
When expressing ourselves in writing, it is difficult to convey attitudes like sarcasm. However, with the use of expressions such as tongue-in-cheek, the author’s intention to express himself in an ironic, insincere, sarcastic way can be easily conveyed.
5. “sleight of hand” vs. “slight of hand”
Sleight – noun
: the use of dexterity or cunning, especially so as to deceive.
Sleight, as a word, comes from the same root as sly. You will most likely notice it used in the phrase – sleight of hand. The phrase can be used to evoke the same idea of trickery or misdirection in other contexts.
- We discover from the fine print that that was a sleight of hand—a clever piece of news management to create the impression of new money.
- It takes a little more time when one reads through the speech carefully to find his sleight of hand.
The word slight has more different meanings.
As a verb, it means to insult, ignore or disregard someone by treating or speaking of them without respect or attention. As an adjective, it means small in degree; inconsiderable (“a slight increase”), or it can refer to a person or their build – thin or slender (“he was slight and delicate-looking guy”).
Because of the great similarity between these two words (both in spelling and sound), it is easy to understand why people tend to confuse them.
- But magicians do what they do by slight of hand, and smoke and mirrors.
So, is it sleight of hand or slight of hand?
Slight is a homophone of sleight, but sleight of hand is the correct form when referring to a cleverly executed trick. As mentioned, sleight means “deceitful craftiness” and slight usually refers to a person “having a slim build”.