We can’t get it right all the time can we? Especially not me. Nothing I say makes much sense until after about the third rewrite. But there are certain phrases in the English language which we’re likely to get wrong more than others apparently.
A list came out a few years back of the most misused phrases by English speakers in the UK. Here it is below.
1) A damp squid (a damp squib)
2) On tender hooks (on tenter hooks)
3) Nip it in the butt (nip it in the bud)
4) Champing at the bit (chomping at the bit)
5) A mute point (a moot point)
6) One foul swoop (one fell swoop)
7) All that glitters is not gold (all that glisters is not gold)
8) Adverse to (averse to)
9) Batting down the hatches (batten down the hatches)
10) Find a penny pick it up (find a pin pick it up)
A friend of mine did ‘damp squid’ only recently – and I could quite see where she was coming from – it just makes more sense. Squib is an archaic word but apparently was a type of detonating charge – like a firework – for use in mining. It set off the blast. So if you got a damp one – no explosion – just disappointment and a bunch of people standing around in hard-hats saying: “Well – that was a bit of a damp squib wasn’t it?”
Personally I’m sure I’m guilty of champing at the bit – chomping sounds like you’ve got it wrong. I also used to say find a penny until I was corrected repeatedly by wiser counsel. But I would still feel more lucky finding money than a pin.
Surely nobody really says ‘Nip it in the butt’ though do they?