Thursday, July 30, 2009


Earlier today I happened upon an article in the online edition of the Telegraph newspaper which listed the top 10 misquoted phrases in Britain. You know, the ones that many people use wrongly because one of the words in the phrase sounds like another word, and the other word is more common and appears to make more sense too.

I thought I'd share the list with you - keep in mind that the phrases *in brackets* are the *correct* ones.

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)

I must admit, I have on occasion proclaimed that someone was on tender hooks and I had absolutely no idea that it's what glisters that may not be gold!

According to the article, the 14th century phrase "on tenter hooks" comes from a wooden frame (a tenter) that was used to hung wet clothes out to dry, whereas the phrase "all that glisters is not gold" comes for the Shakespearean Merchant of Venice.

So... which ones of these have you been getting wrong?


Gattina said...

I always heard to pick up a penny and not a pin, we even say that in German, lol
We once asked a policeman for a street, he had a horrible accent and told us to turn at the roundabitt and thank you very mooch !

Anonymous said...

I am guilty of 2 but I am dubious on the 'pin'/'penny' one too...! on some of them - really?!?

Puss-in-Boots said...

I'm one of those people who is totally pedantic as far as correct pronunciation and sayings of the English language are concerned. I have to bite my tongue, 'cos I was told it was rude to correct!

Tinsie said...

@ Gattina: Hahaha were you in Birmingham by any chance?

@ Anonymous: Well, that's what the good people over at The Telegraph seem to think!

@ Puss-in-Boots: Shhhh! If I were you, I'd say nothing ;-)

Per Stromsjo said...

A mute point sounds like one of them wordless posts. A damp squid was real fun. Any squid not being damp will have to report to the office right away!

Tinsie said...

Hahaha! In my experience squid is often damp before it's cooked :-)

PostMuse said...

I always thought the phrase for nonsense was "mumble jumble." I was in university before a professor commented on my "cute play on words." I asked her what play on words and she said "Mumble jumble instead of mumbo jumbo."

Karen said...

Find a pin? Who cares about pins? I'm all about the penny.

I have to admit to being slightly embarrassed that I've had Shakespeare wrong all this time..

Kate said...

I have used at least two of the incorrect phrases in class. That's awful. I have even seen"all that glitters is not gold" in a book!!!

Tinsie said...

@ PostMuse: If it makes you feel any better, I wrote "definately" for years thinking it was the correct spealling...

@ Karen: I'm with you on the pin/penny debate! As for the Shakespearean quote, I bet *everyone* gets it wrong.

@ Kate: Books and magazines and everything else in between!!

Karen said...

Seriously, as far as I knew, glisters wasn't even a word!

Tinsie said...

Hahaha now that you mention it...

Tinsie said...

It's a word alright, albeit an old one (cue The Bard). I had a look at my Concise Oxford Dictionary (9th edition - 1995) and found the following entry:

glister v. & n. archaic * v.intr. sparkle; glitter * n. a sparke; a gleam. [Middle English from Middle Low German glistern, Middle Dutch glisteren, related to GLISTEN]

Glisten also means to shine, esp. like a wet object, snow etc.

So many words for the same thing!