commonly misused/misheard idioms

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Even the most literate and well-read people bungle phrases from time to time. In fact, the author of this post, a professional editor and copywriter, learned something new from this list of misheard/misused idioms.

No one is exempt! 🤪

So let’s have a good-natured laugh 😆 at the phrases we’ve been using incorrectly and learn how to use popular idioms so we can be clearer when we communicate.

Down the pike or the pipe? The original phrase is coming down the pike—“pike” being short for “turnpike” in this case. Over the years, people have misheard this phrase and conflated it with “in the pipeline,” which has a similar meaning. “Pike” in this case is more correct. Besides, “down the pipe” gives off major bathroom vibes. 💩

Speaking of bathrooms…

Flesh or flush it out? If you want to build out or complete an idea or concept, you flesh it out—like putting skin on a skeleton.💀 If your goal is to scare out something from a hiding place or use water to clean out something, then you’ll flush it out. 🚽

Couldn’t or could care less? This one is obvious when you consider the actual words. Telling someone you could care less implies that you do care about it. On the other hand, if you’re totally done with something, and you want to convey your indifference, 🙄 saying you couldn’t care less does the trick.

Pique or peak your interest? A peak is the top of a mountain ⛰ or hill, while “pique” means to stimulate or arouse interest or curiosity ❓ in something. It makes sense that these two homophones are often mixed up, but unless you want to say that something went mountain-climbing with your curiosity, use “pique.”

Beckon or beck-and-call? When you’re expected to do someone’s bidding immediately, you’re at their beck and call. “Beckon call” is simply a misheard version, a phonetic elision that drops the “d” off the “and.” That said, if singer 🎤 Beck calls, 📞 you might want to answer.

image with a no symbol for "Beckon," a "come here" finger for "beck and call," and a pic of Beck with a phone for "Beck calling"

Beyond the pail/pale? This one is a little confusing. At first glance, neither “pale” nor “pail” seems to make sense. But when you learn that “pale” in Ye Olde Tymes didn’t mean a light color but referred instead to a stake or pointed piece of wood used to mark a boundary, it makes some sense—more than going past a bucket 🗑 does, anyway. Think of how the color drains from your face when you do something wrong, and you’ll remember to never go beyond the pale.😱

Free rein or reign? All right, this one stumped yours truly. I thought this meant to have complete control over a situation, to reign over it, like a queen. I was wrong. “Reign” means to hold royal 👑 office and rule over others. “Free rein,” on the other hand, means to allow someone unrestricted freedom over their actions—or what a rider would do by relaxing the reins on a horse. 🐴

Hunger pangs or pains? While being extremely hungry definitely hurts, the phrase you should use to describe that feeling is “hunger pangs.” Here’s one fun way to remember the difference: Use your fangs 🧛🏻‍♀️ to alleviate your hunger pangs.

Home or hone in? There’s a reason you’ve heard of a homing pigeon but never one that hones. “Hone” means to sharpen something, while to “home in” means to aim at a target 🎯or destination. Maybe there are roaming bird 🐦 gangs sharpening knives 🔪 somewhere in the world, but until they make themselves known, use “home in.”

Readers, tell us your favorite misused idioms! We’re @illumyinc on all platforms.


Photo by Volodymyr Hryshchenko on Unsplash

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