Commonly Misquoted Phrases

October 22, 2010 at 2:00 am 30 comments

By Chad Upton | Editor

Admittedly, I am not an English professor. There are many occasions when readers have corrected me, and I appreciate it, that’s what this site is all about — learning new things.

I’ve noticed a few common phrases that frequently get misquoted in conversations. Even if you know the correct phrase, you might not know it’s meaning or origin. If you’ve got others, share it in comments at the bottom.

Tide over

common misquotes: tie over, tied over

The word “tide” is an obsolete word for time, although it’s still with us in words like “Yuletide” (Christmas Time).

The phrase comes from sailors who had to anchor (or compromise progress) when there was no wind to fill their sails — to prevent the tide from pushing them backwards or off course. The earliest recorded use of the phrase can be found in A Sea Grammar (1627), “To Tide ouer to a place, is to goe ouer with the Tide of ebbe or flood, and stop the contrary by anchoring till the next Tide.”

Down the pike

common misquote: down the pipe

If you’re talking about something in a pipeline, whether it’s literal or metaphorical (like a sales pipeline), then “pipe” does make sense. But, if you’re talking about anything else, then it’s probably “coming down the pike.”

The etymology is pretty straight forward, in this context, “pike” simply refers to “turnpike”, which is a major roadway, usually a toll road. In other words, it just means that something is coming down the road.

Flesh Out

common misquote: flush out

Much like, “coming down the pipe“, “flush out” is a real phrase. But, “flush out” is often used when people actually mean, “flesh out.”

To “flush out”, means to expose or release something, like flushing the toilet. It comes from bird hunting, where one flushes out a flock of birds. To “flesh out” is to bring something to life, to make it real. If you take an idea and make it real, you have put flesh on a skeleton.

Broken Secrets

Subscribe on: Facebook | Twitter | Email | Kindle

Photos: skipnclick (cc), MuseumWales (cc)

Sources: The Free Dictionary (turnpike), Google (pike), UsingEnglish,, Wikipedia (Tide), Paul Brians (Washington State University)

Entry filed under: Geek, History and Origins. Tags: , , , , , , , , , .

The History of Halloween The Difference Between Whiskey and Whisky

30 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Marc  |  October 22, 2010 at 3:39 am

    How about “I couldn’t care less”? I frequently hear people mistakenly say “I could care less” instead, which doesn’t make much sense if you think about it.

    Also, “you’ve got another think coming”. People frequently mistakenly say “you’ve got another thing coming”.

    • 2. Paris  |  November 7, 2010 at 10:50 am

      “You’ve got another THING coming” was around for decades before it morphed into “you’ve got another think coming”….

  • 3. Rema  |  October 22, 2010 at 9:00 am

    Flesh out is also a phrase. Here, from flesh out

    — vb
    1. ( tr ) to give substance to (an argument, description, etc)
    2. ( intr ) to expand or become more substantial

  • 4. Rema  |  October 22, 2010 at 9:02 am

    Please disregard my last comment. Sorry, it’s too damn early to be thinking coherently.

  • 5. nemecke  |  October 22, 2010 at 10:05 am

    People also commonly misquote “intents and purposes” and instead say “intense and purposes” or “for all intensive purposes.”'all_intents_and_purposes'_or_'all_intense_purposes

    • 6. ataala  |  April 18, 2011 at 12:32 am


  • 7. Shannon  |  October 22, 2010 at 3:21 pm

    I’m never sure if the phrase is “play it by ear” or “play it by year”. Anyone know?

    Both make sense to me…
    If you say “playing by ear”, you’re referring to playing a song “by ear” with no music, so you’re kind of just winging it as you go along.

    If you say “playing by year”, you’re saying you’ll wait (“by year”) to see what happens and then just wing it from there.

    I think that makes sense.

    • 8. Anita Burnham  |  October 23, 2010 at 10:06 am

      The phrase is ‘playing it by ear”, meaning you’re going to see what comes up and figure it out, or wing it.

    • 9. Hit Manfan  |  May 22, 2013 at 12:35 pm

      Refers to playing a tune without sheet music.

  • 10. Chad Upton  |  October 24, 2010 at 5:07 pm

    You guys are awesome, these are great examples! I’ll have to do a part 2 of this post and research the etymology of these ones. Keep ’em coming!

  • 11. Julia  |  October 25, 2010 at 10:53 am

    Those are great examples! I’ve got a few more phrases/idioms that are often misused, either when writing or speaking:

    1) People often write “tow the line” when the correct phrase is “toe the line” (i.e. “toe the party line”).

    2) This one is also more of an issue when written than spoken, but it’s “waiting with bated breath”, not “waiting with baited breath”.

    3) It’s “rack your brain”, not “wreck your brain”, or “rake your brain”.

    4) It’s “wreaking havoc”, not “wrecking havoc”.

    4) Irregardless is not a word – the correct word is regardless.

  • 12. Anita Burnham  |  October 25, 2010 at 1:11 pm

    Irregardless is my greatest pet peave!!! You’d think I’d have more being an English major who minored in Grammatical studies, but I hate hearing people say that-makes me cringe!

    • 13. chriscp  |  September 24, 2013 at 12:35 pm

      Three years later… You probably meant “pet peeve”. Also, the rest of your thought seems to be missing a word. I’m not sure what it is, but that’s definitely an incomplete thought there.

  • 14. Anita Burnham  |  October 25, 2010 at 6:00 pm

    Oh, that and ‘a whole-nother’ It’s either ‘a whole OTHER’, or just say ‘another’.

  • 15. Julia  |  October 27, 2010 at 1:37 pm

    Thanks, Anita! “Whole-nother” is another great example.

    I saw one more today when on a message board – someone wrote “wa-la!”, and it reminded me of how much this annoyed me too, so I had to come back to post.

    When looking at the whole post, it was clear that the poster has heard people saying “voila!”, but had no idea how it was written or that it is actually another language. I haven’t heard anyone say “wa-la”, but have seen it in written form quite a few times!

  • 16. Sissi  |  October 29, 2010 at 2:24 pm

    Anita, I hate “irregardless” too but it’s pet peeve, not “peave.”

  • 17. Anita Burnham  |  October 29, 2010 at 4:39 pm

    Funny, my brain was saying ‘peeve’ but I guess my fingers typed ‘peave’. Wonder where that came from!

  • 18. Eileen  |  November 5, 2010 at 10:49 am

    As a Facebook fanatic I’m in several groups… My pet peeve – and I see this too many times to count – typing ‘loose” when you mean “lose”

  • 19. Mark  |  November 14, 2010 at 6:35 pm

    I’d have to say my biggest is people saying “brought” instead of “bought”… Mom “brought” bread and milk… instead of “bought” bread and milk

  • 20. Brent  |  November 24, 2010 at 11:16 am

    “road to hoe” should be “row to hoe”, meaning a difficult task.

    Example: She has a tough row to hoe.

  • 21. Danielle  |  November 25, 2010 at 10:38 pm

    How about: “unthaw”……just makes me cringe. Should be “thaw”

  • 22. CupKates  |  January 25, 2011 at 3:00 pm

    I posted this to a particular comment instead of all the comments as was my intention.

    Despite popular belief – irregardless is a word – granted not a popular one – even considered “nonstandard” by According to Merriam Webster (a more reputable source in my opinion) the word first appeared in 1912 most likely as a blend from these two words: irrespective and regardless. Merriam Webster also considers this adverb to be nonstandard, and the following is their ‘Usage Discussion’ taken directly from their website:

    “Irregardless originated in dialectal American speech in the early 20th century. Its fairly widespread use in speech called it to the attention of usage commentators as early as 1927. The most frequently repeated remark about it is that “there is no such word.” There is such a word, however. It is still used primarily in speech, although it can be found from time to time in edited prose. Its reputation has not risen over the years, and it is still a long way from general acceptance. Use regardless instead.”

    *To me irregardless is just the underdog that needs to be used more often until he becomes more popular and gains his due respect

    • 23. chriscp  |  September 24, 2013 at 12:37 pm

      No. Leave “irregardless” and “bling” lying on the side of the road where they belong.

  • 24. wes  |  February 17, 2011 at 3:20 am

    “Chomping at the bit” is an eggcorn for “champing at the bit.” The latter is actually correct.

    Oh and a whole nother sounds nice in speech; most people who say it realize ‘nother’ isn’t a word. The n smoothes the transition from whole to other.

  • 25. Jes  |  October 19, 2011 at 12:57 pm

    Also, people often say or write “mother load” when the phrase is really “mother lode”

  • 26. Tairavis  |  March 2, 2012 at 8:22 pm

    A segue is a transition, a segway is a motorized device.

  • 27. ben  |  August 1, 2012 at 9:35 pm

    Here’s a couple more for you:
    Dogs running rapid(rabid)
    bull in a china hutch(shop)
    batting down the hatches! (batten)

  • 28. litsick  |  November 11, 2013 at 12:25 am

    I cringe at the misuse of the word “literally” which means actual or real. So, to hear a journalist say, on TV, that “he literally blew up when he heard the news”, I never knew information could be so powerful.

    Then there’s “very unique”. Since “unique” means one of a kind, how can there be “very” one of a kind.

  • 30. JJ  |  August 6, 2015 at 11:06 am

    Sometimes people saw, “the straw that broke the camel’s toe” when they mean to say, “the straw that broke the camel’s back”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Trackback this post  |  Subscribe to the comments via RSS Feed

Follow Broken Secrets

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 5,366 other subscribers

Big Awards

Best Personal Blog/Website (People's Voice)

W3 Award - Copy Writing


Featured by…

• Yahoo
• Business Insider
• Smithsonian Magazine
• USA Today
• AskMen (and many more...)

Contact Info

%d bloggers like this: