Maria is a Master Gardener, public health educator, grant-writer, artist, photographer, editor, & proofreader. She lives in coastal Alabama.
The Most Commonly Misused Expressions of Writers
In proofreading and editing manuscripts and advanced readers' copies (ARCs) of new books, the most common mistakes I find are punctuation errors, missing punctuation, poor grammar, poor syntax, and occasional redundancies.
Additionally, I frequently find misused phrases and expressions. Here I share a few of them.
"Begs the question"
One of the most frequently misused idiomatic expressions of our time, “begs the question” is frequently used in place of “raises the question”.
“Begs the question” refers to a fallacy in logic where one of the premises of an argument assumes the conclusion is true. The two are not interchangeable. This one is frequently used by television personalities, news anchors, and reporters, as well as those whose work is written.
"God willing and the creek don’t rise"
No, it's not poor grammar. It should not be "doesn't rise". Many people believe this has to do with flooding. I thought that, myself, well into adulthood. This old expression is from Alabama history at a time when the European settlers had reason to fear the “rising” of the Creek nation against them. So the correct way of writing this phrase is “God willing and the Creek don’t rise” with a capital letter “C”.
“Sold down the river”
In one book I reviewed, a character was said to have been “sold up the river”. In one of the darkest periods of our history, when humans were bought and sold like cattle, a person who repeatedly tried to escape slavery was sold to a place farther south, away from the border states, where escape was more difficult, hence the phrase “down the river”.
Chicago’s nickname as “the windy city”
This phrase has nothing at all to do with windy weather, although there may be wind coming off Lake Michigan, especially in winter. This phrase was coined in the 19th century (specifically 1893) by Charles A. Dana, in an editorial he wrote for the New York Sun. Mr. Dana was referring to the hot air of the Chicago politicians who wanted the 1893 World's Fair to be held in their city rather than New York. Chicago did eventually win, but the name "The Windy City" stuck.
Notebooks for jotting down those story ideas before they slip away
"A good rule of thumb"
Another one, not misused, but having a mostly unknown and/or misunderstood history, is “a good rule of thumb”. It comes from what was once believed (incorrectly) to be an early English law in 18th and 19th century North Carolina, stating that a man could not hit his wife with a rod that was bigger than his thumb.
The reality: In the early days of statehood, the State Supreme Court of North Carolina renounced and ridiculed not only the “rule of thumb” but repudiated the right of a man to beat his wife at all. Unfortunately, that court held up the decision of a lower court that a man who struck his wife with a switch about the size of his finger had not violated any law. The judge in the case held that while the state supreme court was not saying he had the right to beat his wife, simply that the higher court would not interfere with “trifling cases”. This information was obtained 2nd hand from the Handbook of the Sociology of Gender, by Janet Saltzman Chafetz.
Feel free to leave a comment or a question. For editing or proofreading, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org
MariaMontgomery (author) from Central Florida, USA on February 19, 2021:
Thank you, Virginia. I thought so, too. As I find more, I'll add them to the list. Thank you for reading my article.
Virginia Allain from Central Florida on February 19, 2021:
so interesting to find out the details behind these phrases and how to use them!