Phrases And Words Used Incorrectly

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Over the last decade I have noticed several curious oddities in the English language. I’m not saying I personally was the first to notice them, simply that they have become apparent to me. The fact that these abnormalities in the English language offend my ears may suggest that I am in the prescriptive grammar camp (There are a specified and standard set of grammar rules) as oppose to the descriptive camp (Rules are made according to the daily usage of the language by the speakers).Although I would like to think I am a bit more forward thinking than that.

The purpose of this post isn’t to embarrass or belittle anyone, or try to assert my linguistical superiority because I am in no position to do so. Simply that if I was using words incorrectly I would hope someone would pull me aside and explain why I am in error. After all, we correct people whose first language isn’t English, and if we are prepared to do that then we must also concede that we are not speicalists ourselves in our own native tongue. I for one could not tell you what a dipthong or a gerund is, and I certainly can’t explain to you the intricacies of conjugations, or what an intansitive verb is.

Below are five such oddities that really make me bite my tongue when I hear/see people use them incorrectly. Although I must confess that I have used these words incorrectly myself on occasion before realising that I have been in error. The first two are regarded as eggcorns. An eggcorn is a word that is misheard. It derives from how the word acorn has, in the past, been misheard and/or written as eggcorn.


“Can’t be asked” vs “Can’t be arsed”

I think this one annoys me the most. The reason why this confusion annoys me, leading me to face-palm whenever I hear it, is that it is such a simple error. Let’s break it down: I can’t is the first mistake. Why is it a mistake? It insinuates that it is impossible for the individual to do something. Now there are things that it are impossible for humans to do. Use the Force for example or breathe underwater without specialist equipment. Humans cannot, can’t, are unable to do those. Fair enough! However, when adding the rest of the sentence, “be asked”, you are implying that it is impossible for a person to be asked. Any person can be asked anything. Whether they reply, comply, or understand what they are being asked is not the point here. The point is that anyone can be asked anything.

“But how can arse, a noun, become arsed, a verb?” I hear you say. That is a good question and one I don’t have the answer for. I don’t seem to be able to find a concrete answer, but I can only assume it has evolved as a reply to the expression “Move your arse!”. If anyone has more information as to its origin please get in touch.

“Intensive purposes” vs “All intents and purposes”


You are more likely to have misheard the phrase “for all intents and purposes” as “for all intensive purposes”, as oppose to have read it because nowadays, editors spot the mistake and alter it. The phrase simply means for every practical use.

Example of correct use: “Tonight is, for all intents and purposes, the night for Brazil to show the world that they are the greatest team on Earth.”

Irregardless vs Regardless

Title Carry On Regardless (1961)

According to Etymology Online, the word irregardless was first used in print in the 1870s and is believed to be an amalgamation of the words regardless and irrespective. In the 20th century, the word began to cause controversy for linguists due to the word being a double negative. The prefix ‘ir’ and the suffix ‘less’ are the culprits of the double negative.[1]

Example of incorrect use: Irregardless of how you feel, I will not be attending your birthday celebrations.

Example of correct use: Even though I feel ill, I will carry on regardless.

Sex and Gender

Being that sex and gender have been a much talked about subject in the last few years, I thought I would explain the difference for those who are unsure. What makes me qualified to discuss the meaning of sex and gender? I had to write a short essay on the difference during my Masters. However, this is not a forum for people to argue over their own beliefs and prejudices here. I am simply commenting on the difference in meaning between the two words.

Sex: Sex is based on biological characteristics which tend to clearly distinguish between male and female. However, in some cases individuals present anatomical and physiological characteristics of both sexes. These people are designated as Intersex. According to the Intersex Society of North America approximately 0.05% of the world’s population are born intersex.[2]

Gender: The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines Gender as “Gender refers to the roles, behaviours, activities, attributes and opportunities that any society considers appropriate for girls and boys, and women and men. Gender interacts with, but is different from, the binary categories of biological sex.”[3]

So why are these words being used interchangeably? Again, WHO explains that “Simply people fail to grasp the difference between the two, possibly opting for gender out of a prudish disposition and aversion to using the word “sex”.”[4]

Theory vs Hypothesis


During arguments and discussions about controversial subjects, you may often hear the doubter using the phrase “…is just a theory”, as if that should win the argument. The issue is that like sex and gender above, the words theory and hypothesis have begun to be used interchangeably by people who may not be aware that there is a difference. However, the meanings of the words are different.

There are several types of hypotheses as explained in[5]:

Simple Hypothesis: A prediction of the relationship between two variables: the independent variable and the dependent variable.

Example: Smoking regularly increases the risk of lung cancer.

Complex Hypothesis: Examines the relationship between two or more independent variables and two or more dependant variables.

Example: Overweight adults who 1) value longevity and 2) seek happiness are more likely than other adults to 1) lose their excess weight and 2) feel a more regular sense of joy.

Null Hypothesis: A prediction that turns out to be incorrect, and the researcher believes there is no relationship between the variables.

Example: There is no significant difference in health during the times I drink only green tea or only water.

However there are times when a hypothesis does have data to back up its claims:

Logical Hypothesis: The proposed hypothesis results produce limited evidence.

Example: Running three miles per day increases your general fitness, meaning that running ten miles every day should increase your general fitness even more. However, until the subject actually runs ten miles a day, we are unable to confirm the prediction.

Empirical Hypothesis (Working Hypothesis): The hypothesis becomes a theory because evidence from experimentation has been produced and shows the hypothesis to be correct.

Example: Without upward thrust or the use of some form of parachute, the heavier the object weighs on Earth, the faster it will fall through the air until it reaches terminal velocity.

Statistical Hypothesis: An examination on a portion of the population.

Example: I wish to know the life expectancy of the Cocker Spaniel dog breed. It is impractical to study every single Cocker Spaniel on earth, and so a portion, the larger the better, will be studied. The results should give an indication as to the life expectancy of that particular breed. The higher the number involved in the study, the more accurate the study will be.

In other words, unless stated as Empirical, Working or Statistical, hypotheses are predictions not based on evidence. A theory (Empirical or Working hypotheses) is an idea that is backed up by results based on rigid and fair experimentation.


[1] ‘Irregardless’. Online Etymology Dictionary. ( Accessed 22nd January 2020).

[2] ‘Frequency’ Intersex of North America. (Accessed 20th January 2020).

[3] ‘Gender’. World Health Organisation. (Accessed 20th January 2020

[4] ‘Gender’. World Health Organisation. (Accessed 20th January 2020

[5] ‘Examples of Hypothesis’. Your Dictionary. ( Accessed on 22nd January 2020).

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