Write it Right (or How to Really turn off your readers)

According to Wikipedia, a mondegreen is a mishearing or misinterpretation of a phrase as a result of near-homophony, in a way that gives it a new meaning.

Who hasn´t seen that web post about all the misinterpreted song lyrics.  My personal favorite is the ´Excuse me while I kiss this guy´ interpretation of Jimi Hendrix´s  ´Purple Haze.´

Another great one is this Youtube video of Joe Cocker´s Woodstock presentation of ´I Get By with a Little Help from my Friends´

This phenomenon of mixing up words has become epidemic in the INDIE self-pub revolution.  I was reminded of this tonight while reading a book (title not to be revealed) in which the writer described his main character in a lot of detail and then went on to say that ´his hair was retreating.´ RETREATING?  You´re kidding me right?  What, is his hairline under attack from head lice?  (I´d think he meant receding but what do I know???)

This is not the first time I have seen clichés, expressions or just everyday conversation turned upside down.  Aside from all the other errors a writer could make, of which there are gadzillions, it seems to me that screwing up a common expression or mixing and matching wrong verbs with wrong compliments is the ultimate foe paw.  (Just kidding, it´s faux pas)

Here are some other messed up phrases I´ve seen.

In the nip of time.  What the hell?  Either this is a small drink of alcohol of time or a derogatory Asian term of time.   Isn´t the correct term ´In the nick of time

Nip it in the butt. Aside from the possibility that this is a book of Homo-erotica, I believe the correct term is ´Nip it in the bud.´

There are hundreds of these expressions that get mangled.  It seems to me that a writer had better get this stuff right because you are sure to have readers who notice when you get it wrong.  I became hyper-vigilant to this area of English after reading ´Write it Right´ by Ambrose Bearce.  Although the book is severely dated, the ideas are still relevant today.

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Here is a bunch more oft-mangled phrases for your consideration.

I could care less vs. I couldn’t care less.  Hmmm.  Thank you for caring.

You’ve got another thing coming vs. You’ve got another think coming.  Sounds like Christmas morning.  I only got socks and a bottle of Old Spice – I better have another thing coming.

Statue of limitations vs. Statute of limitations.  The Statue of Limitations is just down the road from the monument to bad writers.

For all intensive purposes vs. For all intents and purposes.  My purpose here is very intensive.

Extract revenge vs. Exact revenge. I´ve got a juicer but I have to get me one of those revenge extractors.

Old timer’s disease vs. Alzheimer’s Disease.  I hear that watching old 70´s programs on Youtube can cause Old timer´s disease.

Irregardless vs. Regardless.  I don´t want no double negatives please.

I made a complete 360 degree change in my life vs. I made a complete 180 degree change in my life.  Back where I started from.

Curl up in the feeble position vs. Curl up in the fetal position.  Reading that one left me feeble too.

Prostrate cancer vs. Prostate cancer.  Bad writing causes a cancer of lying face-down on the ground.

First-come, first-serve vs. First-come, first-served.  Damn, I´m not going early to that party.  They´re gonna put me to work.

Shoe-in vs.  Shoo-in.  A shoe in was a 60´s phenomenon, much like a love-in, but with shoe salesmen.

Baited breath vs.  Bated breath.  Don´t go fishing with this guy – he eats all the worms.

Ok, that´s it for today.  Keep your eyes out for these kinds of mistakes.  Gotta run now.  I have a guitar lesson and my teacher is going to teach me how to play that great song by Canadian Bryan Adams – ´Summer of 69´ Everyone knows that song.  It´s the one that starts “I got my first real sex dream…”

David Gordon Burke
Find my books here.


One thought on “Write it Right (or How to Really turn off your readers)

  1. A good editor is invaluable for catching these word mishaps. My editor caught me out on one the other day – middrift – no such thing. The word is midriff. Hmmm … I’m writing a fight scene, going with the flow, wrote what went through my mind and never looked at it again. Thank goodness, she catches these things. Great post.


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