We’re Saying It Wrong
What are some expressions or idioms that we commonly garble?
Let’s see how we do. Which of these is correct?
Each phrase is listed in alphabetical order.
. Bald-faced lie
. Barefaced lie
. Bold-faced lie
. Baited breath
. Bated breath
. Chalk it up
. Chock it up
. Coming down the pike
. Coming down the pipe
. For all intensive purposes
. For all intents and purposes
. Just deserts
. Just desserts
. Nip it in the bud
. Nip it in the butt
. Risk adverse
. Risk averse
. Toe the line
. Tow the line
. You’ve got another thing coming
. You’ve got another think coming
And for Bonus Points. How does this expression end:
‘Fool me once ….’
• Bald-faced lie
• Barefaced lie
• Bold-faced lie
Both bald-faced and barefaced are considered correct; both words mean open and unconcealed.
• Baited breath
• Bated breath
It’s about waiting with nervous anticipation. The ‘bate’ is a shortened version of ‘abate’ which, in the context of breath, means to hold or suspend. In ‘Merchant of Venice’, Shakespeare has Shylock address Antonio:
‘Shall I bend low and in a bondman’s key,
With bated breath and whispering humbleness,
Say this: Fair sir, you spit on me on Wednesday last?’
• Chalk it up
• Chock it up
The verb ‘chock’ means to stop or to hold in place. The noun ‘chock’ is a block or wedge that helps hold things in place. If something is ‘chock-full’ it is utterly full. But the expression ‘chalk it up’ means to credit or attribute something to a particular cause. The use of the word ‘chalk’ here has its origin in the notion of keeping tallies on a chalkboard.
• Coming down the pike
• Coming down the pipe
This is something to expect in the future. The ‘pike’ here refers to a turnpike or highway; this is something that will happen ‘down the road.’ Not to be confused with something that is ‘in the pipeline.’
This phrase refers to something that is rooted and well-established. It can also describe something with its ‘seat’ burrowed well under the surface, e.g.: a psychological conflict, an inflammation.
• For all intensive purposes
• For all intents and purposes
Means ‘in effect.’ It’s derived from King Henry VIII’s 1546 power flex where he gave himself permission to interpret laws as he saw fit: ‘to all intents, construction, and purposes.’
• Just deserts
• Just desserts
Harsh, but this is the poor outcome or punishment that this person has earned. ‘Deserts’ here is rooted in a Latin verb meaning ‘to deserve.’
• Nip it in the bud
• Nip it in the butt
Best stop things now, this expression tells us, before this problem or habit gets worse. The phrase goes back centuries and was built in reference to early frosts that killed flower buds before they had a chance to bloom.
• Risk adverse
• Risk averse
One could make sense of either phrase, but the phrase was built around ‘aversion’, that is a vigorous dislike for something, here risk.
• Toe the line
• Tow the line
Similarly described as ‘toeing the mark.’ This phrase is about following tough rules, sticking to standards. It’s said to date back to 1800’s Britain with either runners keeping their toes behind the start line, or sailors standing at attention with their feet perfectly aligned.
• You’ve got another thing coming
• You’ve got another think coming
So many people say ‘thing’, the phrase might be its own thing now. But, the original phrase used think. Here’s an 1898 quote cited in the Oxford English Dictionary. ‘Conroy lives in Troy and thinks he is a coming fighter. This gentlemen has another think coming.’ As in: you’re wrong, think again!
It’s: ‘Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.’
The original phrase is much less elaborate than most people remember. Many assume they must be missing a rhyme (‘Is it three and me?’ ‘Is there a ‘thrice’ in there?’)
Or it could be that people have heard writer Stephen King’s version, quoted in his celebrated book On Writing. ‘Since the repeated ear-lancings when I was six,’ King writes, ‘one of my life’s firm principles has been this: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me three times, shame on both of us.’
Header Photo: Joshua Coleman