What Are Some Idioms People Often Misunderstand?


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There are some idiomatic expressions that people misuse due to the existence of a similar or homophonic word that either seems to make more sense or is more common; these include saying "wait with baited breath" instead of "wait with bated breath" or "chomping at the bit" instead of "champing at the bit." In the case of "wait with baited breath," the mistake is that the word "baited" implies a condition of being taunted or teased, while "bated" describes a condition of something being halted or stopped. Saying "waiting with bated breath" is more accurate because it implies that someone is holding their breath in anticipation.

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Other examples include sayings such as "just desserts" instead of "just deserts," "free reign" instead of "free rein," "hunger pains" instead of "hunger pangs" and "nipped in the butt" instead of "nipped in the bud." In each of these cases, the incorrect expression makes use of the wrong word that may say or even seem correct, but is not technically the right word to use in the idiom. For example, "hunger pains" seems like an accurate expression because hunger can be physically uncomfortable, but the word "pangs" is correct because it gets at the specific form of discomfort, which can come in waves, that hunger can cause.

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