10 Words and Phrases You Are Using Totally Wrong

I found this article irresistible. Nothing to do with marketing, everything to do with communicating clearly




1. Physical year

I suppose every year is a physical year in the sense that it exists and that time is an element of physics. But people who say this likely mean "fiscal year."

2. A mute point

True, it might be a point not worth dedicating much vocal energy to, but that's only because the point is "moot."

3. For all intensive purposes

This one arguably makes linguistic sense, and if you say it quickly people might not notice. But the normal phrase is really "for all intents and purposes."

4. I could care less

I suppose this might be a true statement, if you mean that you do in fact care, but you're articulating your concern using a litotes. However, many people use it when they mean the exact opposite: that they actually could not care less.

5. Irregardless

This one was included in the original article, but so many readers wrote to discuss it that I felt compelled to include it. Most often, people actually mean "regardless." 

6. Reoccurring

Often, people mean "recurring." Reoccurring means something that happens again, not necessarily on a schedule; recurring means something that happens repeatedly, more often on a schedule (like a "recurring payment").

7. They did a complete 360

If someone does a complete 360, it means they wind up in the same position they were to begin with (there are 360 degrees in a circle). But if you mean in fact that they wound up in the opposite position, the correct phrase is "complete 180").

8. Preventative measures

This is one that often might be perceived as incorrect, but it's not; however, you also might think about whether that incorrect misperception clouds your message. In short, you can say "preventative," or you can say "preventive."

9. Respectfully

This a fantastic word. Don't we need more respect in the world? However, a few readers told me they'd seen it used when the speaker or writer actually meant "respectively." 

10. Exasperated

This one surprised me, but the reader who suggested it came with receipts, including links to online articles using it incorrectly. Exasperated is a fine word, but it doesn't mean the same thing as exacerbated, which is to have made a bad thing worse, often via misguided attempts to fix it.


I'm going to add a few more just for fun, which I don't think are likely very common, but that readers cited:

  • "PNL statement" instead of "P&L," short for "profit and loss." If you say it fast, it sounds the same. But if you write it down, you're probably outing yourself as a liberal arts major who never took business classes.
  • "Very close veins" for "varicose veins." ("My friend refers to her 'very close veins' and I can't bring myself to say anything because I think it's too cute.")
  • "Air-raided" for "aerated." (As in, "The athletic fields cannot be used until Tuesday because they will be air-raided.")
  • "Doggy-dog" for "dog-eat-dog." (As in, "It's a doggy-dog world.")
  • "Pneumatic" for "mnemonic." ("I work for lawyers who offer an acronym for me to remember something as a 'pneumatic device.' I am going to have to correct them someday.")
  • "Pre-Madonna" instead of "prima donna." 
  • And finally, my own: "pedal stool" instead of "pedestal." Context: Back in my single days, a woman I found on an online dating app described herself as "a princess who deserves to be placed on a pedal stool." This gave me more than one reason not to date her.