(My apologies if you are currently eating – you may want to come back later.) My older son announced to me this week that his friend’s dog had been ill. “He says that his dog had verbal diarrhoea – it was coming out of his mouth and nose!” There were clearly a few issues to unpick here, and we eventually managed to clear everything up, figuratively. Anyway, it was clear his friend and he had got this phrase badly wrong.

This was all quite cute, if a little disgusting; and while his interpretation was more literal than incorrect, it got me thinking about other phrases which are commonly misunderstood and mis-repeated. So I dug into the depths of the internet, and came up with one or two of the most often-occurring.


It’s a Mute Point

Describing something which is ultimately unimportant, it’s easy to see why this one has evolved wrongly. It was also famously discussed in Friends, way back in the 90s, when Joey – not the most eloquent of the group – explained why he’d spent years thinking the expression was ‘moo point’ – “y’know, it’s like a cow’s opinion.”. Moo or mute, neither is the original term – it’s moot. It’s a legal proceeding in which hypothetical cases are discussed for practice (and that’s the thing I learned today).


It’s a Doggy Dog World

Some people blame Snoop Dogg for this mistake, because of his debut album with the same title. I don’t know how he usually says the term, but it’s definitely “dog eat dog”. And the latter makes a lot more sense than ‘doggy dog’. And aside from Snoop Dogg, I’m not sure what people are imagining this doggy dog world to be like when they use it.


Damp Squid

All squids are damp, I should think (those that are alive, anyway); so it makes more sense to describe something as a damp squib, which is a type of little firework. Far more disappointing than wet marine life.


On Tender Hooks

Trickery here, because the original term is an old one that isn’t in common use any more. Tenterhooks were used to stretch wet cloth across a wooden frame to dry it, thus putting the cloth under stress and tension. Which you would be, I suppose, if someone had hung you out to dry. (See what I did there? Sorry.)


English is always evolving and changing, just as it has for hundreds of years. The more these alternative terms are used, the more likely they are to become the accepted norm, even if it’s not the same as the original. Let’s face it, they’re not quite as badly wrong as my son’s mistake, and there are many word and phrase origins lost to the time before writing. But it’s difficult to imagine how, in this age of digital record, we will ever lose track of a phrase again – or that there will ever be a shortage of people willing to point it out when people get it wrong.

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