Ode to a tin ear: How language gets mangled

Questioning meaning can help you avoid misusing ‘familiar’ terms.

Questioning meaning can help you avoid misusing ‘familiar’ terms

People mishear, then they misspeak, and the next thing you know, the coinage finds its way into print.

For example, a writer I know—someone whom I hold in high esteem—recently wrote, “… it’s no big deal if you’d just assume do it at 10 a.m.”

He meant, of course, “… if you’d just as soon do it …”

He simply misheard it in the first place, but he didn’t stop to parse what he thought he had heard, so the fact that it made no sense eluded him.

Supposably, she’ll be here first thing tomorrow morning,” I’ve seen in an e-mail, as well as hearing it—and cringing. Again, the correct word, supposedly, landed badly on the ear. Rather than questioning what supposably could mean, that person just used the term. At least I suppose that’s what happened.

I’d rather walk the five miles home than ride with a drunken driver,” seems clear enough—and a wise choice. I’d rather means I would prefer to. But somehow that verbal construction went through someone’s cerebral Cuisinart and came out this way: “I rathered walk the five miles …”

To read the full story, log in.
Become a Ragan Insider member to read this article and all other archived content.
Sign up today

Already a member? Log in here.
Learn more about Ragan Insider.