Word perversions we need to set straight

We all enjoy looking smarter than we are. Sadly, however, there’s no avoiding the fact that people make judgments about other people's intelligence based on the smallest bits of data. It's not fair, but it happens. Have you ever rolled your eyes at someone when they said "supposably" instead of "supposedly" or "irregardless" instead of "regardless"? Within that eyeroll is embedded a snap judgment on the speaker's intelligence that isn't necessarily fair.

These small perversions of words and phrases aren't mortal sins. Most often, they're accidental, caused by pronunciation or confusion; at some point, the person uttering the unfortunate phrase had to have learned it from some other source. That being said, while I propose kindness and understanding in considering those who unintentionally offend with such errors, I also propose that those thusly confused might take a shot at learning the corrected versions. Because we all enjoy looking smarter than we are, right? :)

For your consideration, some of the most common word and phrase perversions that I'd like to help set straight:

  • asterick/asterisk: This one is caused sheerly by lazy pronunciation. Even though it’s indeed spelled “asterisk,” people can’t seem to remember to pronounce that last “S.” And it’s true: most people don’t notice. But in the name of making you look smarter, when you write it out, remember that it’s indeed “asterisk.” Don’t RISK misspelling asterisk. Get it?? ;)

  • could of, would of, should of / could've, would've, should've: This is another one that stems from a pronunciation problem. Because, let’s face it, “could’ve” DOES sound exactly like “could of.” To help you remember this one, think about form and function: think about it as an action phrase, which is indeed what it is. Can you “of”? Would you “of”? Should you “of”? No, you cannot possible “of,” because to “of” is not a possible action.

  • for all intensive purposes / for all intents and purposes: Legions of people have inadvertently taken the opportunity to mishear and bastardize the original expression as “for all intensive purposes.” The phrase “for all intents and purposes” really just means “for all practical purposes.” For all intents and purposes, she was done writing the paper. While she still had to proofread it, she was essentially finished. “For all intensive purposes,” on the other hand, is a perfectly adequate phrase – with an entirely different meaning – with precious few situational fits. Let it be acknowledged, however, that your purposes may in fact be intensive. The doctor thought about the important surgery that lay ahead. The angle of each cut, the depth, the force of it – every move was so crucial. For all intensive purposes of this nature, he preferred to use his lucky scalpel. Still, for the most part, people will just look at you like you’re an idiot if you say “for all intensive purposes.” So remember your intents, and remember your purposes, and be deliberate in getting this one right going forward.

  • ex cetera / et cetera: In Latin, “et” means “and,” and “cetera” means “the rest.” Thus we have the marvelously useful and time-saving “et cetera,” commonly shortened as “etc.” I suppose the “ex” variation crept in out of sheer familiarity, in that “et” is, well, Latin. To keep this one straight in your head, just remember that if you “ex” the “cetera,” you’d effectively be removing the rest of your list – and that’s not your intent, is it? Your actual intent: looking smarter.

  • irregardless/regardless: To be honest, this is the only one I can’t quite get over. It’s “regardless,” which means “without regard.” If you add on that extra, needless “ir-” to the front of it, you’re effectively reversing it, which would mean something like, “without without regard” – so, I guess, WITH regard? Which is never what people mean when they use the non-word “irregardless.”

  • perogative/prerogative: I'd contend we can blame Bobby Brown for this one. Back in the day, I had the cassette single of his song, “My Prerogative.” (I can easily picture myself jamming to it on my Walkman while sitting on the school bus, deliberately displaying the cassette sleeve on my lap in case it made me look cooler.) And while it was indeed spelled correctly on the cassette sleeve, Bobby certainly didn’t pronounce that first “R.” And who does? While I’ve been spelling “prerogative” correctly since the late ‘90s, I still can’t get myself to clearly pronounce that first “R.” Nonetheless, when you spell it out, remember that extra “R.” You’ll look smarter and get to feel self-satisfied.

  • supposably/supposedly: This one drives many people crazy. It’s essentially a slip of the tongue – nothing more – so I try not to get too worked up about it. The word “supposedly” refers to something that’s assumed or believed… or shall we say, something that’s SUPPOSED, and it tends to be used in a manner intended to cast doubt on whatever it is that’s being supposed. Supposedly, she had a good reason for being a half-hour late to the meeting. Interestingly, she wasn’t willing to reveal that reason. But the kicker here is that “supposably” IS in fact a valid word. It means “conceivably,” however, which has a very different meaning from “supposedly.” Supposably, her reason for being late could’ve been reasonable. Maybe it was something genuinely embarrassing? That all being said, “supposably” is an antiquated word that’s not in common usage. In fact, Microsoft Word keeps doing the squiggly-red-underlining thing to it here on my draft, trying to insist it’s wrong. So the safest bet is to excise supposably from your vocabulary and try to remember that you’re talking about something that was supposeD.

  • wet your appetite / whet your appetite: Despite the fact that nobody seems to use the word “whet” in any other context pretty much ever, the expression “whet your appetite” isn’t going anywhere. The expression refers to something – often food – that stimulates your interest. Given nobody ever says “whet” anywhere else, I don’t blame people for assuming it’s “wet.” But getting your appetite “wet” makes zero sense. “Whet” means to sharpen or stimulate, while “wet” refers to how sodden with liquid something is. So try to remember that weird “H” and keep your sentence from making zero sense.

  • ying and yang / yin and yang: For this one, I blame the human race’s general preference for symmetry. People just can’t help thinking that “ying and yang” SOUNDS right, especially when the meaning is something that describes how forces that are seemingly opposite may in fact be complementary. But “yin and yang” is indeed the correct expression, with the “yin” denoting the feminine/dark and the “yang” denoting the masculine/light.

  • just assume / just as soon: This is another example of a figure of speech that people mishear, repeating the misheard version without necessarily contemplating what they're saying. The correct version is intended to help you express a preference: I'd just as soon have a root canal rather than listen to this man drone on any longer about "fake news" and the "crooked media." In this example, you are saying that you hate listening to this person so much you really would prefer a root canal. "Just assume," on the other hand, has an entirely different meaning, because "assume" itself is a verb. You can't say "I'd just assume have a root canal," because it simply doesn't make sense. And I'd just as soon everyone go ahead and make sense when they can.

I hope that's helpful. Ultimately, however, it's your prerogative whether you care enough to make these corrections. At minimum, I promise I won't judge. Neither will Bobby