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Every day, I hear people say stupid things. Often, they find their way into print as well. Here are many of them. If you know of one, please pass it on to me and I may add it. I’ll give you credit for it if I do.





Dumb word or phrase
Correct version
Why
administrate administer There is a word “taxation,” but we do not call the verb “taxate.” It’s “tax.” The fact that there is a noun “orientation” does not mean the verb is “orientate.” It’s “orient.” Please ceasate doing this.
adverse averse Adverse is a good word. It means opposite or contrary to your interests. What is wrong is to say, “I am not adverse to...” For that phrase, you use the word “averse” which means set against.
Afghani Afghan Citizens of Afghanistan are Afghans. The Afghani is the currency unit of Afghanistan.
artic arctic  
ascared of afraid of The morons who make this mistake apparently meant to say afraid but got lost between the first and second syllable. I’m afeared that they also seem to think that all fear words start with an uh sound.
asteriks or asterix asterisk pronounced like it is spelled (from Deane Rothenmaier)
athaletics athletics There is only one “A” in athletics and only three syllables, not four; I heard former football coach and current analyst Lou Holtz mispronounce it that way on the John Stossel show on Fox business in January 2011; you would think a career coach would know how to pronounce athletics; he did pronounce athlete correctly
athleticism athletic ability the suffix “ism” generally refers to a belief system like atheism or Communism, a condition like alcoholism, or a behavior pattern like heroism or colonialism; all three of these categories of “isms” involve behavioral choices made by a person or group of people; none refer to natural ability or any other inherent characteristics; there is no word where the suffix “ism” means “ability” or an extraordinary presence of its root prefix, in this case, the word “athlete;” what the guy who coined the word athleticism was searching for was “athleticity;” “icity“ or “ity” are suffixes designed to convert an adjective into a noun like “ethnic” to “ethnicity” or “elastic” to “elasticity;” not that I’m pushing for the word “athleticity;” like “athleticism,” it has five syllables; I recommend we stick with “athletic ability” in spite of its seven-syllable length, although I would welcome an intelligent, shorter word for it; for those who claim football people are illiterate morons, the use of the word “athleticism” is further evidence they might be right
Baharain Bahrain Bill O’Reilly thinks this country has a three-syllable name. Nope. It’s two syllables. And he is a graduate of the Harvard John F. Kennedy School of Government.
bemused amused bemused means stupefied, confused, preoccupied; it does not mean observing something or someone with amusement; since no one knows what bemused means these days, don’t use it at all

bob wire

bobbed wire

barbed wire Don’t know Bob.
boogeyman bogeyman It’s pronounced boogeyman but spelled bogeyman.
canary in the minefield canary in the coal mine CO2, carbon monoxide, or methane can build up in mines and wine cellars. The canary dies faster than humans from lack of oxygen, stops singing, thereby telling the humans to get out. To the best of my knowledge, no canary has ever set off a mine or indicated the presence of mines.
chomping at the bit champing at the bit  
commentate comment The fact that there is a noun “commentator” does not mean there is also a verb “commentate” or “commentating.” “Commenter” is a real word. If we start using that instead of the convoluted “commentator,” this problem will go away.
complement compliment When you want to say something nice about something or someone
compliment complement When you mean to complete another thing or person
constraint limit “Constraint” is an affectation of Harvard Business School grads, of which I am one, but I do not use that word.
conversate converse Just because the noun is conversation does not mean you get the verb by eliminating the ion.
cursorary cursory Okay, there are two syllables ending in R and that’s a bit difficult, but not so difficult that you are entitled to make it more so by adding a third syllable that ends in R.
derisive pronounced as if the second syllable were rihs dee•rice•ihv Obama started this nonsense as one of his faux intellectual isms; I refer doubters to the dictionary where the correct pronunciation is explained. Now all sorts of people, including those who hate Obama, are saying it Obama’s way. WTF!?
dimunition diminution Fox News’ Juan Williams said this wrong on election day 2010. The end of the word is not pronounced like ammunition. The last three syllables are pronounced in•new•shun.
divisive pronounced as if the second syllable were vihs dee•vise•ihv Obama started this nonsense as one of his faux intellectual isms; on 2/3/10, I saw a Fox TV reporter, of all people, pronounce the word as Obama does; I refer doubters to the dictionary where the correct pronunciation is explained. Now all sorts of people, including those who hate Obama, are saying it Obama’s way. WTF!?
doggy dog dog eat dog Reminds me of a popular song that many think is “Dosey dotes and mayrzy dotes…” The actual lyrics are also written as “Does eat oats and mares eat oats and little lambs eat ivy”
dolly hand truck A dolly is a flat square with four wheels on the bottom. It is used to move heavy objects that have few places to grab like sofas. The two-wheeled device you use to move tall objects like refrigerators and heavy stacks of cartons is called a hand truck.
Don’t cash your chickens before they hatch. Don’t count your chickens before they hatch. Banks do not cash chickens. Some eggs contain stillborn chicks.
dependency dependence “Dependency” is big with politicians talking about our dependence on foreign oil. See my article on why energy independence is not really a sensible goal.
duck tape duct tape It’s used on air ducts to cover holes and gaps. No poultry involved. A reader informs me that there is an article on the Web at http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-duc4.htm which says there is some evidence that duck tape is correct, although the author of the article agrees with me that the phrase “duck tape” is more likely a malapropism that some manufacturers may subsequently have decided to go with in order to cater to the moron market segment. It would not be the first time the morons have outvoted the intelligent in language. The brand name “Frigidaire” lost a court case because they failed to defend the word vigorously enough such that a federal court said it had become generic for refrigerator. “Athleticism” is another word where the morons appear to have won. See my discussion of that at my football terminology dictionary.
high dungeon high dudgeon I just heard Michelle Malkin say this on Hannity. Dungeons are in the basement. A dudgeon is a dagger or its handle.
ensure insure Webster’s defines “ensure” as “same as insure,” but many pedants say that ensure is the only correct word for certain situations. It is not.
ecxcetera et cetera It’s Latin. Et means “and”. Eck means nothing. The abreviation is etc. not ekc., or maybe the same morons who mispronounce it misspell it, too. (From Deane Rothenmaier)
Brett Favre’s last name pronounced as if it were “Farve” It’s French—Cajun actually. It’s supposed to be pronounced “Fah-ver” and was by the Commissioner of the NFL when Favre was drafted. Apparently this happened because football fans and sportscasters are a bunch of illiterate morons. I note that it is now politically correct to do the opposite with Latino words. We’re supposed to pronounced them as if we were natives of Nicaragua which you must now pronounce as “Nee ah rah wah” to be politically correct. See my article on that nonsense inspired by my attendance at my son’s graduation from UC Santa Barbara.
flush out flesh out There’s nothing wrong with “flush out” (to wash something out of an area with a liquid) but it means almost the opposite of “flesh out” (to fill in as skin and muscle growing to fill out an arm that otherwise would just be bones).
for all intensive purposes for all intents and purposes I never heard that but reader Katy Morgan submitted it
foreign words and phrases American English except in rare circumstances An American should not use a foreign word or phrase when speaking English unless two things are true: 1. the intended audience fully understands the meaning of the foreign word or phrase in question and 2. there is no equivalent American word or phrase. An example of a word that fits #2 but probably not #1 is the German word Gemütlichkeit. Volkswagen used that word in their U.S. ads for a while. Because it did not comply with Rule #1, I thought that was a mistake on their part. A foreign phrase which I think does satisfy both rules is the French “Vive la difference.” The literal translation is accurate: Long live the difference [between men and women]. It is an old Frenchman’s toast. But, in American use, the French version carries far more rhetorical punch than “Long live the difference,” perhaps because of the romantic connotations of the French language in general and its mellifluousness. And Americans generally exactly know what “Vive la difference” means. The worst example I’ve heard of the substitution of a foreign word or phrase for an American one came from one of my Harvard Business School classmates, who had graduated from Harvard College as well. He used the French word “ambiance,” pronounced as it is pronounced in French and helpfully defined it for me, a West Point graduate whom he assumed did not know the meaning. The problem is American English also has the word “ambience” which means the exact same thing but is pronounced like the related word “ambient.” This particular use of a foreign word by my double-Harvard classmate was nothing put putting on airs, an affectation.
forment foment I heard Bill O’Reilly say “forment” on his TV show. There is no such word. He apparently conflated ferment and foment.
fractions factions Although fractions sounds like it might have come from fracture, a group that is divided up into competing subgroups is said to have broken up into factions. The word fraction comes from the Latin frangere which means to break; faction comes from the Latin facere which means to make. There could have been a logical use of the word fraction for that purpose, but it did not happen that way. The subgroups are factions. I heard Newt Gingrich, Ph.D. make this mistake on Fox News on 2/3/12.
freestyle American or Australian crawl The upside-down back stroke is called the crawl. Freestyle means you can use any style you want. Some swimmers use the butterfly for their freestyle stroke because they are faster using that stroke than using the crawl. Freestyle is not a style of swimming. It is permission to use any style you want.
gain the system game the system

I never heard that but reader Katy Morgan submitted it

“Game the system” means “To use the rules and procedures meant to protect a system in order to instead manipulate the system for a desired outcome,” according to Wiktionary. Gain has no meaning that would relate to “the system.”

get your head around get your arms around or understand no explanation should be necessary
gleam glean gleam means shine as from a light or reflection of a light; glean means to gather or extract; you glean information from broader information; you do not gleam information
grosheries groceries the c is pronounced like an s, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Chris Matthews calls them grosheries, some of which he washes in the kitchen zinc.
grow (as a transitive verb) increase e.g., to “grow” a business is stupid, growing a vegetable is okay (from Karen Spence)
guarantee-er guarantor I heard lawyer Greta Van Sustern say this on Fox News.
hard road to hoe hard row to hoe You don’t hoe a road. That would be vandalism. This is another Gretaism.
head over heels heels over head? upside down Head over heels is the normal position of a sitting or standing human being. The phrase is used to convey an image of an unusual position. Karen Spence says this is now standard so it’s okay. I don’t care if it’s standard. It’s still stupid. Try upside down instead. When upside up becomes “standard,” we’re starting to lose it altogether.
pronouncing “height” as if it ended with an h The correct pronunciation rhymes with tight or might Look it up in the dictionary. There is no h at the end, never was, and the dictionary pronunciation is 100% like tight, not tithe, not Smythe.
hone in on home in on The Wall Street Journal had an article title with this mistake in the third week of August, 2010. Someone wrote a whole article about this. He said, and I agree, that this is just a mishearing of the original—like little kids who think, “Our father who art in heaven” is “Our father who fart in heaven.” To hone means to improve, originally, to sharpen a blade. Home in on probably refers to homing pigeons; later to missiles guided by radar or heat seeking.
I could care less I could not care less Saying you could not care less means you do not care at all about the matter in question, which is what the speaker intended. Saying you could care less means you currently care a lot about the matter in question, which is the opposite of what the speaker intends.
“impact” used as a verb affect bureaucratspeak
incent motivate Aaagh!
incidences instances They mean the same but you don’t use four syllables to say what three will convey.
insider trading is illegal trading on undisclosed inside information is illegal Insider trading is an employee of, or other person affiliated with a publicly traded corporation buying or selling securities of that corporation. It is not illegal, but must be publicly disclosed in certain circumstances. Trading on inside information, which is what Martha Stewart was accused of doing, means anyone, insider or outsider, buying or selling a security when they were in possession of material, non-public information about that corporation. Such information must be made public—I believe at the SEC web site—X hours before the person in question, typically NOT an insider, makes the trade.
ironical ironic from magician Dick Steiner
irregardless regardless from magician Dick Steiner
jerry rigged jury rigged  
jew-lary jewelry say it like it’s spelled; a reader writes: "jew-lary" is actually OK, at least according to Oxford: http://www.oxfordadvancedlearnersdictionary.com/dictionary/jewellery; my response is say it like it’s spelled and Oxford should not pander to the dyslexic, especially when Oxford cannot even spell jewelry; Webster says I’m right, not Oxford
jive as in “that does not jive” jibe jive is a noun meaning jazz slang or B.S.; jibe is a verb meaning to match up
Latina Latino Justice Sotomayor started this word’s use in American English. There is no such word in English. In Spanish, the letter “a” ending means female and the letter “o” ending means male. But, I remind you, in America, we speak English. This is obvious racist, patronizing condescension. People do it because they think Latinos are pathetic losers and must be flattered at every opporunity by pronouncing their words and names as if we Americans thought the Spanish was superior to, or more authentic than, the American English one. Other ethnic groups like non-Latin Caucasians or Asias get no such treatment because they are doing just fine without it. See my web article “Why are we supposed to pronounce Latino words as if we were Latinos?”
laxadaisical lackadaisical there is no x or cks at the end of the first syllable
leave your feet leave the ground, fall Leaving your feet is not possible absent amputation.
loose when they mean to forget where you put something lose

Lose is the verb which refers to no longer having something you used to have.

Loose means not tight.

Macy’s Day Parade Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade The Today Show’s Willard Scott used to make this mistake, and he was probably grand marshal of the parade on occasion. This is akin to the childish refusal to say all the syllables in social security.
mattress, go to the mat, go to the I heard a woman on Stossell say the unions went to the mattress on this. Prostitutes and gold diggers went to the mattress. Other people making an extreme effort go to the mat.
mute point moot point mute means silent; moot, already decided
next store next door It could be next store in a shopping district. This stupidity can only be detected in print.
non-trivial significant “Non-trivial” is an affectation of Stanford graduates, e.g., Michael McConnell, a Stanford Law Professor used the word in an op-ed on page A15 of the 3/20/10 Wall Street Journal. Don’t ask me why.
noun turned into a verb There is always already a verb available for the purpose in question.

The first time I heard one of these was a bureaucrat saying something as going to “impact” people. Why didn’t he say “affect?”

Others I have since heard include “resource” and “architect.” Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams frequently makes fun of this sort of nonsense, or should I say “comedies it?”

nuclear pronounced as “nuke you lar” (by President George W. Bush among others) nuke clee ar Pronounce it the way it’s spelled; not the way huge numbers of people do
orientate orient The fact that orientation is the noun does not mean that orientate is the verb. There is no such word as orientate but the morons in the military use it all the time.
peaked piqued as in “piqued the curiosity of;” reporter Alaxandra Berzon made this mistake in a 6/4/10 Wall Street Journal article about John Paulson buying into Harrah’s; you can’t get good help anymore; this particular mistake could easily be programmed into spell checkers because the word is almost always paired with curiosity
pivot

strategy change; if you want to use metaphor, “course correction” is good

In January, 2010, the head journalist apparently decreed that henceforth all journalists will use the word “pivot” to refer to a change in political strategy. Overnight, they all did. Other than the comical herd behavior of journalists regarding the word, the only other problem is its definition. A pivot is an object or location around which another object or person revolves. It is akin to the fulcrum of a lever.

Who is this head journalist who has this power?

podium lectern podium is the elevated platform upon which a speaker stands. Lectern is the thing they stand behind.
populism demagoguery, class warfare, business baiting demagoguery is appealing to ignorant voters by using fallacious facts and/or logic that ignorant voters are unable to see through as well as emotion and prejudice; populism is a euphemism or spin to make demagoguery sound better. The head journalist has apparently also decreed that Hitler-versus-Jews-like scapegoating of business and Wall Street will henceforth be called populism.
predatorying preying Rush Limbaugh said this one in March 2010. Stop and think a moment, folks. Generally, the word you seek has already been invented and is in your memory banks.
preventative preventive diarrhea of the mouth
principal principle (or vice versa) “al” is a person or debt amount or an adjective for main; “le,” a fundamental truth
problemic problematic P.J. O’Rourke made this mistake in a talk at the San Francisco Nob Hill Ritz-Carlton on 2/11/14. It’s not a bad word—fewer syllables and all. But it happens to be a non-existent word like Obama’s goofy pronunciations of derisive and devisive. (As stated above, the second syllable is pronounced like “eye” not “ih.”)
prostrate cancer prostate cancer prostrate means lying down flat
pronouncing Realtor as if it were a three-syllable word, i.e., reel a tor Realtor should be pronounced “reel tor” Pronounce it the way it’s spelled; not the way huge numbers of people do, including many Realtors themselves
recognization recognition Apollo Ono made this mistake in the opening ceremonies of the Sochi Olympics!
referenda referendums I heard Charles Krauthammer make this mistake recently. There is no such word as referenda. I looked it up. I am a big advocate of referendums. See my article http://johntreed.com/headline/2011/06/22/god-bless-referenda-we-need-them-at-the-national-level/ Note that I made the mistake myself in the URL but not the article title.
should of should have May sound like “should of” but you can’t write it that way.
skewered skewed I heard a person on the radio say Gwen Ifill was “skewered to the left.” Skewed means biased. A skewer is a pointed rod used for cooking kabobs.
various garbled pronunciations like “sosal” security or Chris Matthews’ version which sounds like “soshecurity” social security

It is not my fault that it’s six syllables or that no one has come up with an abbreviation (SS is taken)

Chris Matthews and I are both from the Philadelphia area. We have both been in electronic media. I was a top-40 DJ in college. The difference is the first time I heard a tape of my program in college, I was horrified by my Philadelphia accent and got rid of it. Matthews is not only dumb enough to say things like Obama sent a thrill up his leg, he is also dumb enough to say everything in a heavy Philadelphia accent which distracts listeners from his message.

pronouncing “strength” as if it had no letter g in it pronounce the g This is common in my native Philadelphia area. Chris Matthews is from there and he pronounces it wrong.
supposably supposedly There is such a word as opposable, as in thumbs, but my rhyming dictionary has no other words ending in osable.
tasked out assign, replace, do The military uses this as in, “We were tasked out to replace the 101st Airborne Division in Iraq.” Just say we replaced the 101st. This is bureaucratese like the airline stewardess speech Comedian George Carlin made fun of. Bureaucrats, like military personnel, are obsequious or servile. One manifestation of that is what my late mom called diarrhea of the mouth sort of like the old Stepin Fetchit “yes massa whatever you say massa” routine. The more words you use to say something, the more servile you are being. The military provides more than its share of examples of dumb things people say because the military has more than its share of morons. (I was a West Point cadet and Army officer for eight years.)
track housing tract housing Tracks are for trains and runners.
touch base, or worse, touch bases call, speak, email

It’s more like God touching the other guy in the Sistine Chapel ceiling painting than touching an inanimate object like a base. It means communicate. You do not communicate with a base. And no one ever touches a base to another base. A reader said this is okay because it’s an idiom and presumably has something to do with baseball. Exactly, it has something to do with baseball. Touching a base means you are safe and you have to remain in contact with it continuously when the game is live. As far as someting being an idiom giving it a pass, bull! All that means is it is accepted. All this bullshit in this entire list is accepted. It needs to stop being accepted.

try and do something try to do something self-explanatory
unequivocably unequivocally able refers to ability; the word describes the lack of equivocation in a statement or action
“water under the dam” or “water over the bridge” over the dam, under the bridge On 2/19/08, Dick Morris described Michelle Obama’s “proud of my country” statement as water under the dam—Obama’d better hope that’s not literally correct—water under the dam causes the dam to collapse and massive water loss and downstream damage.
would have had would have is okay in many cases, but not as a susbstitute for had (from Karen Spence)

John T. Reed