Nip it in the butt: Commonly misused phrases to stop using

Illustration of incorrect phrases being denied entry to a bar
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There are phrases that have become so normalized in our everyday language that we don’t even second-guess them to wonder: Does this make sense? We speak quickly and misspeak often, which has led to the integration of completely incorrect phrases into our language. In most casual conversations, your friends won’t decipher your mistakes, but if you’re trying to sound impressive or are speaking to the grammar police, you will want to practice your understanding of the English language. Here are some of the big phrasal mistakes to look out for.

“I couldn’t care less,” not, “I could care less”

“I could care less” doesn’t make sense if you stop to consider it. Saying you could care less means that you care; being able to care less means there is a significant amount that you care about in the first place.

“Case in point,” not “Case and point”

This one is a bit more difficult, but I’ll break it down for you. The meaning of “case in point” is to provide a piece of evidence that settles your side of the argument: The solution to the case is within this point. “Case and point” is differentiating the case and the point, which is not the aim of the phrase.

“You’ve got another think coming,” not “You’ve got another thing coming”

The complete phrase is “if that’s what you think, you’ve got another think coming,” which is to say that you are so terribly wrong about something that eventually you’ll change your mind. However, even former president Barack Obama has messed up this phrasing, so it’s an excusable mistake.

“Dog eat dog world,” not “Doggy dog world”

Doggy dog was popularized when Snoop Dogg released a song called “Doggy Dogg World.” However, it’s really a “dog eat dog world.” The phrase is a dramatic one: The world is so rough that dogs will betray their own species and eat each other. 

“Nip it in the bud,” not “Nip it in the butt”

To nip something in the bud is to cut it off before it has the chance to grow. To nip something in the butt is to bite someone’s backside. Think before you speak.

“Play it by ear,” not “Play it by year”

Musicians who perform a musical piece without reading the score are playing by ear, which is how this phrase arose. When someone says they are “playing it by ear” in an everyday context, they mean that they will figure it out by instinct instead of by planning.

Contact Lindsey Staub at [email protected].