Words and Phrases I’ve Misused

Chris Higgins of mental_floss wrote a book called The Blogger Abides. It's about, you guessed it,  blogging! In an excerpt he posted today, he gives many examples of misused words and phrases he's been called out on over the years. A couple of examples:

Tough Road to Hoe

A lot of idioms don’t seem to make sense, particularly if you (like me) never really heard them right, and just said what you thought you heard. It’s “a tough row to hoe,” not “a tough road to hoe.” Hoeing a row is something you do in a garden. With a hoe. It’s tough. You don’t hoe a road. I think maybe I thought it was “a tough road a-ho” for a while, which also seems to mean nothing (unless perhaps that’s short for “ahoy”), but maybe in some old-timey slang from my primitive brain it means something…anyway, pro tip: when using some seemingly nonsensical idiom in your writing, Google it first to figure it out what it really is and how to write it properly.

Myriad Plethoras

The word “plethora” traditionally has a negative connotation–so you’d say something like, “I’m pretty sure she’s crazy because she owns a plethora of cats and also never wears shoes.” In modern usage it’s often used much like “myriad,” just meaning “a lot of something”–but some readers will freak out, because of its traditional use as “a problematically large number or amount of something.” Further, the word myriad actually has a positive connotation–so you’d say something like, “Myriad stars shone from above.” (Note: debate rages over the possible uses of the word myriad. In the example just now, I used it as an adjective. It may also be used as a noun, just like plethora: “A myriad of stars shone from above.”)

In short: myriad good, plethora bad (due to quantity).

There's plenty more, from the obvious to the totally confusing. Link


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Aside from the ones that are simply correcting misspellings for words pronounced identically (sew vs sow, baited vs bated) these aren't generally true. While its true that myriad and plethora once had different connotations, those have fallen out of common use, so you aren't incorrect when you use them either way, because per common English, you are correct. Could care less is another one - its an idiomatic expression that makes use of figurative language to suggest the opposite of what it says literally. Virtually no non-native speaker would be confused by it. As for literally vs figuratively http://www.merriam-webster.com/video/0038-literally.htm (all their videos are awesome, by the way).

As for tough row to hoe (which is how I've heard it) speaking as someone who has hoed rows in a cornfield, hoeing a road would certainly be absurdly difficult, regardless of why anyone would actually want to do that (ancient greek punishment anyone?).
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People in Seattle know the phrase "Skid Road", not "Skid Row". The term evolved concerning the people living south of Yesler Street in old time Seattle, the corduroy skids were placed across the trail, to enable other logs to be skidded down the hill to the saw mill using horses. If you lived south of the "Skid Road", where women of ill repute and most of the bars were, you had "Hit the Skids" and lived on "Skid Road".
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