The other night, I was sitting around with a couple of old girlfriends, drinking wine and eating chicken parmigiana. After exhausting the topics of sex, kids, money, bosses and spouses, one of my friends got on the subject of pet peeves. "Just the other day I heard someone say 'that point is mute' and I couldn't believe it," she said. "I just wanted to yell, 'it's moot, not mute, you moron.'" (By the way, "moot" actually means a point is open -- not closed -- to discussion.)
The conversation made me think about how irritated we can get when we hear language mistakes. For example, I especially don't like to hear someone say "I could care less." Why? Because this means the person actually cares a little and so could possibly care less. What people mean to say -- I think -- is that they "couldn't care less" -- or that they care so little they could not possibly care less.
And there are other common mistakes that provoke the same response in me as fingernails on a blackboard. Here are just three of them. Feel free to add your own pet peeves in comments.
1. Misusing literally.
When my kid says "I literally felt like strangling the person" or "I literally could have eaten a horse" I assume he doesn't really mean it and that he's speaking metaphorically. (If he does mean it, we're in trouble.) "Literal" actually means "in a literal or strict sense." It shouldn't be overused as a replacement for "figuratively."
2. Mixing up disinterested and uninterested.
A lot of people don't see a difference in these two words even though there is one. If you are bored or simply not interested in something, you are uninterested. If you are disinterested, then you are neutral and you don't have a personal stake in something. For example, if you are enjoying a sports match but don't have anything to gain or lose as a result of the final score, then you are disinterested but not uninterested.
3. Confusing "affect" and "effect."
People mix up these words all the time even though "affect" is a verb and "effect" is a noun. "Affect" means to influence or impact something, as in "the drizzle affected my hair." But "effect" means "result" so that you'd say "the drizzle actually had no effect on my hair."
And while I'm on a rant, it's not "could of" but "could have." You "pore" over a document when you read it. After washing your clothes, you put them in a dryer -- to make them drier. And, finally, "desert" is an arid landscape. "Dessert" is that chocolate cake you had after dinner.
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