Think Before You Speak (in Idioms)

(So sorry about the delay on this post, guys. SO much going on these days.)

Last weekend was really busy. Caro was preparing to move cities and into her very first apartment, and Lauren was in the throes of traveling back to our semi-native St. Louis for a visit. But, not to worry! Here at Cooking with Copy, we’re always thinking of and searching for new material to educate and entertain. In fact, Lauren’s latest, delightful (read: not even a little) airport journey included some experiences that provided the inspiration for this week’s lesson.

Two colleagues—a man and a woman—were standing behind Lauren in the security line. Due to the volume of their conversation, Lauren had the misfortune to hear this:

Man wearing sunglasses indoors: “(something about another colleague)”
Woman trying to sound intelligent: “He flew off the cuff!”

Out flew Lauren’s phone, with which she texted Caro about this verbal violation.

Perhaps the woman in line meant that the colleague flew off the handle. Or that he made an off-the-cuff remark. In any case, we can all agree on one thing: to fly off the cuff is not a thing.

This airport conversation brings us to our grammar lesson of the week. Welcome to Episode 1 of “Idioms and Their Misuse” (because enough misspoken idioms have crept into people’s vocabularies that we will, inevitably, need future posts to address all the one’s we’ve heard).

First, we’ll tell you a little of what we know about idioms. Idioms are not clichés. The difference, though, is difficult to elucidate. Clichés are hackneyed expressions, used by so many in the past that they’re now used as shortcuts—as pre-thought-out ways of saying something so that the writer doesn’t have to come up with his or her own unique phrasing. But that, as Caro can attest, is a topic for another day. Caro can also attest that she is actually really excited about that day. “I love clichés more than life itself!” she says. “I mean, not really. But see what I did there? Ha.” Anyway, according to Merriam-Webster, an idiom is a phrase peculiar (yes, not particular but peculiar) to a set of people, or a dialect.

Now, Lauren will tell you that if you’re going to use an idiom, you should be sure that you understand the meaning behind it so that you know what you’re saying and are capable of using the idiom correctly.

Caro, on the other hand, will admit that she rarely traces idioms back to their origins and just memorizes them and uses them only after she has heard enough other people use them that she can repeat them with some level of certainly that she is saying something that makes sense. (Phew, that was a long sentence. Sorry.)

Regardless of how you choose to verify the correctness of an idiom you’re about to use, please do verify. You might be surprised by the actual correct versions of some idioms you are absolutely sure you have right…

For example, Caro spent the better part of her life convinced that something deeply rooted could be described as “deep-seeded.” She figured seeds are deep in the ground… you know, it made sense. WRONG. The idiom is actually “deep-seated.” Deep-seated ideas, deep-seated traditions, etc.

In our best efforts to help you incorporate the proper versions of idioms into your daily vocabs, we’ve provided a list here of some common idioms and the ways they are messed up. (Remember, though… Episode 1! There will be so, so many more.)

Idiom #1: For all intents and purposes
Way It’s Messed Up: For all intensive purposes
We’ve all heard this one. Even Microsoft Word spell/grammar check tries to correct the erroneous version. No intensive purposes to concern ourselves with here, friends. Three words. Intents AND purposes.

Idiom #2: Home in on
Way It’s Messed Up: Hone in on
We’re not sure what to say here. We were pretty sure “hone in on” was correct. Just goes to show you should always Google an idiom before you use it and make sure you’re led to some reliable sources. (“Hone in on” is so common it’s practically considered correct, but we’re sticklers, so we’ll side with “home” on this one.)

Idiom #3: Pore over
Way It’s Messed Up: Pour over
This is Caro’s BIGGEST idiom-error pet peeve ever. She vents: “UGH. You guys. You PORE over a book. I am not sure why. But I know you do not POUR over a book. Pour what?! You pour syrup over your pancakes. You do not pour anything over your books. Unless, well, you do… but that’s just weird.” If you are carefully studying or looking through something, you are poring over it. Easy. Please remember this.

Alright. That’s enough for today. We’ll leave you with this video that has kept Caro in stitches (another idiom!) for most of this Friday evening. Have a laugh, and have a good weekend!

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