Be Careful What You Say… or write!

Clear WritingA malapropism (also called a “malaprop”) is the use of an incorrect word in place of a word with a similar sound which often results in a nonsensical, often humorous utterance.

An example is this statement attributed to baseball player Yogi Berra: “Texas has a lot of electrical votes,” rather than “electoral votes.” Malapropisms are errors in natural speech and can be embarrassing or injurious to your professional reputation and possibly your career.

Although the term, “malaprop” refers to inappropriate words, I believe that the same concept could refer to “phrases, as well. I am motivated to comment on this phenomenon after reading an article in Inc. Magazine by Christina DesMarais entitled, 20 Stupid Grammar Mistakes That Even Smart People Make.

When someone uses language or grammar incorrectly, particularly in written materials, this raises assumptions about their intelligence or education. These impressions can be powerful and lasting.

The article listed 20 grammar mistakes, but I will list the top five (5) that resonated with me. If you wish, the original article can be read here.

My Top Five as written in the article.

1.”Prostrate” Cancer – It’s an easy misspelling to make, just add an extra “r” and prostate cancer becomes “prostrate” cancer which would translate to “cancer of lying face down on the ground.” Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Mayo Clinic websites include this misspelling.

2. “First-Come, first-serve” – This would suggest that the first person to arrive has to serve all of the others. The actual phrase is “first-come, first-served” to indicate that the participants will be served in the order in which they arrived. Both Harvard and Yale got this one wrong.

3. “Extract Revenge” – To extract something is to remove it, like a tooth. The correct expression is “exact revenge” which means to demand revenge. The New York Times as well as the BBC made this error.

4. “Slight of Hand” – “Sleight of hand” is a common phrase in the world of magic and illusion, because “sleight” means the use of dexterity or cunning, usually to deceive. On the other hand, the noun “slight” means an insult.

5. “Do Diligence” – While it may be easy to surmise that “do diligence” translates to doing something diligently, it does not. “Due diligence” is a business and legal term that means you will investigate a person or business before signing a contract with them, or before formally engaging in a business deal together. You should do your due diligence and investigate business deals fully before committing to them.

Related Articles:   WRITE … but not “wrongly”!   and   Four Steps to a Better Presentation

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James E. McClain is the author of Successful Career Development: A Game Plan, the book upon which some of our training programs are based. He has over 30 years' experience as a corporate HR executive, small business owner with ongoing experience in career development and as a college instructor. His educational background includes a B.S. and Masters degrees Education and Certification in Financial Planning. Our promise is that "you can pay more for training but you can not buy better training." The mission is to deliver the most effective and cost effective training and development programs.

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