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9 “Smart” Words and Phrases That You’re Mispronouncing

9 “Smart” Words and Phrases That You’re Mispronouncing

Mispronouncing or misusing smart words and phrases is something that most have us have been guilty of. Some realize that they are doing it; others carry on regardless!

It can be funny in the right context. I recall one time when a detective in a surveillance briefing called the travelers at the train station computers when he meant to say commuters.

The intention is to appear sharp, and intelligent. In many situations, this misuse is not important. If you are a writer, an author or simply writing a resume or a job application letter, then it is important.  You * Your reader is likely to be uninterested in what you write if it is full of mistakes. Your writing will lack authority.

Sharks with cameras? Must be Korean tourists!

Some mispronunciations have become so common that the correct word or phrase confuses readers. In your writing, should you follow common or proper usage? Read the following frequently mispronounced words and phrases to help you decide.

1 Incorrect: chomp at the bit

Correct: champ at the bit

The idiom champ at the bit refers to the chewing action horses make while waiting to race. Champ means to bite or chew and bit is the metal mouthpiece used for controlling a horse. Chomp and champ share similar meanings, making this mispronunciation one of the lesser offenses.

2 Incorrect: doggy-dog world

Correct: dog-eat-dog world

Dog-eat-dog world describes a world in which people do anything to be successful. If I had to guess, doggy-dog world describes a dog utopia with endless fields, belly rubs, and treats. This is known as an eggcorn, which is a misheard word or phrase that retains its original meaning.

3 Incorrect: for all intensive purposes

Correct: for all intents and purposes

The phrase for all intents and purposes means “in every practical sense.” It’s commonly mispronounced as for all intensive purposes. This occurs in speech more often than in writing, because most grammar and spelling checkers will catch it.

4 Incorrect: hierarchy (pronounced hi-archy)

Correct: hierarchy \ˈhī-(ə-)ˌrär-kē \

When speaking about a group that is divided into different levels, make sure to pronounce all four syllables in the word.

5 Incorrect: nip it in the butt

Correct: nip it in the bud

To nip is “to sever as if pinched sharply, or to destroy the growth of.” To nip it in the bud is to stop it from flowering completely. To nip it in the butt is a funny mispronunciation suggesting action to stimulate rather than to stop.

6 Incorrect: irregardless

Correct: regardless

Regardless means heedless or careless. Irregardless is a made-up word and a double negative; it’s also too confusing to use.

7 Incorrect: spitting image

Correct: spit and image

The idiom spit and image is from God’s use of spit and mud to create Adam in his image, as told in the Bible. More commonly, spitting image is used. It means “someone who looks exactly like another person” according to the Macmillan Dictionary.

8 Incorrect: try a different tact

Correct: try a different tack

To tack is to abruptly turn a boat, and taking a different tack is to try another approach. Tact, which means sensitivity in social situations, is mistaken as a short form of tactic; however, suggesting someone take a different sensitivity is unclear.

9 Incorrect: victual (pronounced vicshual)

Correct: victual \ˈvi-təl\

Victual, which rhymes with whittle, is food usable by people. According to Merriam-Webster, it was first used in the fifteenth century and comes from Middle English vitaille, victuayle.

Which of these words or phrases have you mispronounced? Should any of them be used in their incorrect or frequently mispronounced forms?

I confess now that I was not aware of # 7. I have been using “spitting image” all my life and was not aware of my ‘language crime’ until writing this piece!

I must also add a # 10.

Incorrect: architect (pronounced ar – chee – tect)

Correct: architect (pronounced ar – key – tect)

My father always used the incorrect version. He used to use the Reader’s Digest ‘Expand Your Vocabulary’ feature every single week. He loved books and reading. Yet, strangely he mispronounced architect.

I have been described as a prolific writer on several occasions by different people. It’s probably true. I have discovered an invaluable tool to assist me in my writing and it is called Grammarly.

Who are Grammarly?  This is taken from its own website –

Grammarly improves communication among the world’s 2+ billion native and non-native English writers. Our flagship product, the Grammarly® Editor, corrects contextual spelling mistakes, checks for more than 250 common grammar errors, enhances vocabulary usage and provides citation suggestions. More than 4 million registered users worldwide trust Grammarly’s products, which are also licensed by more than 600 leading universities and corporations. Grammarly is a privately held company with offices in San Francisco and Kyiv.

Included in its product range are:

Grammar Check

Plagiarism Checker


MS Office® Add-in

I use the Office Add-in when I am writing in a Word document. I can tell you it picks up on far more than the inbuilt Word spell and grammar checker.

Whether you are writing a book, blog posts and freelance articles like me, or simply want better emails, resumes, college essays then Grammarly is the go-to tool to use.

The plagiarism checker is another useful tool. It can be used by website operators to check their contributors are not ‘scraping’ content from the web and passing it off as original.

Another cool thing about Grammarly is that you can download it as a Windows app. That has to be a good thing – your Facebook posts will read as if written by a pro!

  • Thank you Jerry, for pointing out the typo 🙂 No matter how good Grammarly is, you can’t beat careful self-editing!


The Instant Spelling And Grammar Checker and it’s FREE! Why not try it? You have nothing to lose.

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  1. Adam Lawrence Adam Lawrence

    I think Merriam-Webster has an interesting bit on “irregardless” (if you scroll down the page and look at their videos). M-W actually considers it a “word,” though you’ll never find it in the OED (at least the last time I checked).

    As far as mispronounced words/phrases go, I think Orwell mentions “towing the line” as a common usage error (in “Politics and the English Language”).

  2. Jerry Jerry

    Steve, I second the use of Grammarly. Excellent checker. I use it with Grammarian. Grammarian allows me to use other dictionaries like British and French.

    Another very common mispronounced word is: mispronunciation: mis-pro-nun-see-ay-shun, not mis-pro-own-see-ay-shun

    And then there’s Aluminum versus Aluminium 🙂

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