Friday, Mar 31 2023 | Updated at 02:42 PM EDT

Stay Connected With Us F T R

Oct 17, 2016 01:34 AM EDT

The Most Commonly Misused English Language Phrases


English is a beautiful language filled with imagery and metaphor as well as words and phrases that can be confusing even to a native English speaker. Below are five of the most common English phrases that are often misused:

The proof is in the pudding

What does proof mean in this phrase - a) evidence or b) test?
The word 'proof' in modern times means 'evidence' so the phrase is often used to imply that the evidence fo a certain claim can be found in a 'pudding.' However, when the phrase was first introduced in 1605, 'proof' means taste,' or like in the case of proofreaders, 'test.'

The original phrase was "the proof of the pudding is in the eating," which means no matter how the pudding looks like or is presented, its real test is in its taste. In layman's term, you will only know that something is successful based on the outcome after you put it to use.

The exception that proves the rule

Often used today as 'the exception to the rule' which is used to argue that the uniqueness of something validates it. However, this is hardly the real meaning of this phrase. Like the word 'proof' in the first phrase, 'prove' here also means 'test.' In its original context, the phrase means that the exception will test or validate the rule. If no satisfactory explanation will be given to the exception, then the rule is useless and must be discarded.

For example, if a shop puts a sign "open late on Thursday," implies a rule that the shop does not open late on other days.

Begs the question

This phrase is often used to mean "raise the question;" however, this is not how the phrase was originally used. Simon Horobin, professor of English Language and Literature at Oxford University, said that the phrase came from a logical principle taught by Aristotle which "refers to the practice of assuming something that an argument sets out to prove."

To put it more simply, a conclusion based on unproven assumption is weak. For example, the Brexit vote was a positive outcome because Britain is much better outside the EU, an assumption that hasn't been proven yet.

The culprit for this confusion could be traced back to the wrong translation of the original Latin phrase, petitio principii, as 'begs the question' instead of 'laying claim to a principle.'

Off your own back

The phrase today is used to describe something a person should do out of his or her own initiative. Originally, however, this should be 'off your own bat,' which was an idiom used in cricket referring to "runs scored through the batsman's skill from 'extras' accrued without hitting the ball (byes, wides, no-balls, overthrows)."Since cricket is often associated with fair play and good sportsmanship, other cricket idioms were used to describe good and decent behavior. For example, "play with a straight bat" means being honest and "it's not just cricket" refers to indecent behavior.

One foul swoop

The phrase is often used to describe something that happened all at once. The phrase should be "one fell swoop" which originally came from Shakespeare's Macbeth when Macduff used it to describe the tragedy that befell him after Macbeth killed his family:

"What, all my pretty chickens and their dam, at one fell swoop?" he said.

Macduff used the metaphor of an eagle suddenly flying down and snatched the hen and the chicks with its fierce talons. Fell comes from an archaic word where the word 'felon' originated from. It means 'deadly' or 'fierce.'

See Now: Facebook will use AI to detect users with suicidal thoughts and prevent suicide

© 2017 University Herald, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

Join the Conversation

Get Our FREE Newsletters

Stay Connected With Us F T R

Real Time Analytics