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Avoid These Common Language Pitfalls

By: tracy marsh, copyeditor

Fact: During his tenure as president, George W. Bush consistently mispronounced the word "nuclear." And, he did it A LOT. We used to imagine his speechwriters and other advisers gearing him up before addresses...

Adviser:    “OK, sir. Let’s say it together: NOO-klee-er.”
Bush:         “Right, right. NOO-kyuh-ler.”
Adviser:    [sigh] “Here we go again.”

While the president’s frequent faux pas might have been the most nationally high profile, G.W. isn’t the only offender. Because college professors, Indiana Jones and three of our uncles say “nucular,” too. Every time these foibles rare their ugly head (see what we did there?), they distract from your message, even undermine your credibility.

It doesn’t matter if you’re addressing the board, wooing a client or shooting the breeze with colleagues—accurate speech is the key to communicating your message with confidence and credibility.

Here, we’ve compiled a list of a few words and phrases that seem to trip up folks at even the highest echelons. We know you would never flub them, but feel free to send your uncles a link. 

Jibe vs. jive

Poor jibe. Plenty of people don’t even know it’s a word. But, it is! And, it means to agree or be in accord, while jive, when used as a verb, can mean to dance, play music, or talk a bunch of nonsense. In a professional setting, you’re much more likely to use jibe—for example: “The team members get along great; their personalities really jibe.” (It should be noted, however, that hearing a C-level executive talk about personalities “jiving” is much more fun than the correct usage, as it conjures images of employees doing stuff like this.)

Flesh out an idea vs. flush out an idea

It’s easy to see how this duo can cause confusion, since both expressions have merit in their own right. To flesh out means to provide more information or make more complete by adding details. To flush out means to bring to light. So, if you’re onto something big, and it needs more work, you need to flesh it out. But, if that million-dollar idea is eluding you, you need to flush it out.

I couldn’t care less vs. I could care less

Saying you couldn’t care less about something means you don’t care about it at all. On the other hand, saying you could care less means you already do care about it, at least a little. So, if you’re trying to communicate disdain or indifference, go with the former. … Or don’t. We couldn’t care less.

e.g. vs. i.e.

While both of these abbreviations are short for Latin terms, they’re not interchangeable. The former stands for exempli gratia, which means “for example,” and the latter stands for id est, meaning “that is.” Use e.g. to introduce an example of something, like this: “The word nuclear is mispronounced by lots of people, e.g., three of our uncles.” Use i.e. just before clarifying a preceding word or statement, like this: “Three of our uncles say ‘nucular’ instead of ‘nuclear,’ i.e., they say it wrong.”

Espresso vs. expresso

Let’s explore this word’s Italian etymology—wait, never mind. There’s no need for all that. It’s espresso. No x. The end.

Breach vs. broach

Both perfectly good words, with multiple definitions and uses. For now, let’s focus on their verb forms, which, in many business environments, are as commonly used as they are confused. Breach means to break or violate. Broach means to open or make known for the first time. So, on a particularly stressful day at the office, you could hear someone say: “You are going to breach your contract, and it’s time we broach the subject.” Yikes.

For all intents and purposes vs. for all intensive purposes

Intensive is a word, sure, but it’s not the right choice for the oft-botched expression. For all intents and purposes is an idiom that means one thing has the same effect or result as something else.

Irregardless

Just because this word is in the dictionary does not mean it’s OK to use. That’s why “nonstandard” appears beside its entry. Combining the prefix ir– (“not” or “no”) and suffix –less (“devoid of”) strips the word of its intended meaning, kind of like a double negative. If a synonym for “despite everything” is what you’re after, then plain ol’ regardless will suffice—as in “Our uncles keep mispronouncing the word nuclear regardless.” 


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