Research: MLP: Idioms are misspelled, by and large

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Bad grammar and misspelling spread faster than gossip in a hair salon. Your Mrs. Language Person can’t fathom why English speakers are so apt to misuse and abuse our colorful language, rather than toe the line of correct speech.

Yes, Dear Readers, the idiom is “toe the line,” not tow. Ever seen a track meet? Runners place a foot on a starting line and wait for the starting shot. They don’t drag it in the dirt; no towing involved.

MLP can hardly (not can’t hardly, which is a double negative, thus missing the point) stand to smell one more “baited breath” or see another writer “flaunt the laws” of good grammar. So please, fellow linguists, fais attention. (The imperative is “fais,” not “fait.” The latter would transform the French “pay attention” into past-tense.)

“I could care less.” Fantastic! If caring less is possible, then you must care some. However, MLP is simply wasting your time if you couldn’t care less for proper English.

“Waiting with baited breath.” Unless you’ve used your mouth to hook an earthworm, Dear Reader, you’re waiting with bated breath for correct idioms. Bated means reduced in force or amount, such as holding one’s breath while eager to read more.

“This peaked my interest.” Ah, so your interest reached its highest point, then fell? The phrase should be “piqued my interest.” Peak, peek, (note the Oxford comma) and pique may be homophones, but they have different meanings. Sneak-peek a wrapped gift, or climb to a mountain peak. Your curiosity, however, is piqued when aroused, such as with every MLP column. How humble she is.

“No holes barred.” What an image. Can one bar a hole? Certainly not with the metal variety. Your MLP leaves no holds barred when admonishing would-be grammarians. The expression is likely from wrestling, referring to matches in which all grips and holds are permitted.

“Chomping at the bit.” Your MLP has to admit this one is understandable. While the equestrian phrase “champing at the bit” refers to a horse held back while it gnaws at the bit in its mouth, eager to run, the grinding action of a champ does resemble the biting down of a chomp. Nevertheless, the truth of this mistake is spelling, rather than meaning. Admit it.

“Low and Behold.” Lo and behold, these writers confuse an expression of surprise with the state of poor elevation. Not even close.

“Flaunt the Law.” To the shame of barristers, your MLP has seen this one misused in legal briefs. To flaunt something is to show it off, so using the expression when referring to rule-breaking instead flouts the laws of grammar.

“Statue of Limitations.” No lawyer makes this mistake, but while on the subject MLP advises layreaders thus: Statutes, not statues, contain laws. Therefore, a time limit upon legal action is a statute of limitations. There ought not be one for correcting grammar, but sadly, in the minds of most English speakers it was five minutes ago.

“Given free reign.” Dictatorship? The American colonists nipped that one in the bud (that’s flowers; no butts, please). This is another equestrian phrase, referring to giving free rein to a horse, whose loose reins allow unrestricted movement. Reigns are for kings.

“Shoe-in.” Speaking of government, a candidate for office is rarely a shoo-in. Sartorial habits aside (shoes don’t go “in”), this racing phrase refers to urging something forward or away, aptly applied to politics — a different kind of horse race.

“Slight of hand.” While it’s true that MLP’s hands are rather thin-boned, magic and trickery occur with a sleight of hand.

“Sing a little diddy.” Unless partial to the rap sound of P. Diddy, the word is “ditty” — a short song.

“Rye smile.” Ick. Toothy grins with dark bread bits? Your MLP requests instead the courtesy of a wry smile, which expresses irony far better than the bad taste of half-chewed food.

Which reminds your MLP she hasn’t yet breakfasted. Her hunger is deep-seated (seeds won’t do, but thank you). Writing of rye whetted her appetite (to whet is to stimulate, much like MLP’s fabulously overlong grammar columns whet readers’ desires to exact revenge upon her editor for printing it).

•••

Mrs. Language Person and Sholeh Patrick are columnists for the Hagadone News Network. Queries first-come, (will be) first-served (with a “d”) at Sholeh@cdapress.com.

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