I couldn’t be arsed… and other less-common English mistakes
Like all editors, I’m always on the lookout for common English mistakes. And I love when someone brings to my attention a mistake I haven’t heard before. My friend Mary is a teacher in primary (grade) school. Recently she overheard a pupil tell a teacher “I don’t want to do [this assignment].” The teacher replied, “I see, you couldn’t be arsed to do it!”.
Mary later took the teacher aside and commented that this way of speaking with the children was a tad inappropriate. “What do you mean?”, the other teacher responded. “All I said was, ‘You couldn’t be asked to do it!’.”
When I had stopped laughing, we had a fun conversation about English mistakes that are less frequent than the usual ‘lose/loose’, ‘accept/except’, etc. Today I came across another one, when I read an article where someone wrote that “for all intensive purposes, I am fully cured”. I’m delighted about the author’s clean bill of health, but to all intents and purposes she could do with some remedial English classes.
I’ve already written a list of the most common English mistakes that I come across in my work. Today, let’s look at some that are less common.
My favorite less-common English mistakes
SHOULD OF –> Should have. Come on, you know that’s just being lazy, right?
IRREGARDLESS –> Regardless, as in ‘I’m staying up late tonight binge-watching Netflix, regardless of my 8 a.m. meeting tomorrow.’
TRY AND –> Try to, as in ‘I’ll try to get to that meeting on time, but I have an early breakfast meeting before.’ (Yeah, sure you do!)
ANOTHER THING COMING –> Think, as in ‘If you think I’m going to hike over to your place and pick up pizza on the way, when I could just as well sit at home binge-watching Netflix, you’ve got another think coming.’
PEAK/PEEK MY INTEREST –> Pique, meaning to rouse or provoke.
FINE TOOTHCOMB –> Fine-tooth comb. I think this one is self-explanatory, but I always enjoy hearing this mistake and getting that fleeting image of someone combing their teeth with a tiny little comb.
LESS –> Fewer, as in ‘There are fewer interesting TV shows on Netflix during the summer.’ ‘Less’ would mean something different here, as in ‘There are less-interesting TV shows on Netflix during the summer.’ In other contexts however, I think we should just accept the shift from fewer to less. It really doesn’t bother me to hear or read ‘There are less apples in this basket than in that one.’ It’s a fact that this change is happening. English is an evolving language, and that is part of its beauty. So sometimes we have to sit back, observe the evolution and enjoy the ride. Regardless.
I –> Me. As in ‘He invited my husband and me to come over for pizza.’ Hint: remove ‘my husband’ and you’re left with the correct sentence ‘He invited me to come over for pizza.’ I’m not sure how my husband would feel about this invitation (my husband and I usually prefer to go out together), but the sentence would be right.
EVERYDAY/EVERYONE/SOMETIME –> Every day/every one/some time. It’s not always right to turn words like these from two words into one. It changes the meaning. Every day I’d like to eat everyday things like bread (and pizza). But sometimes I don’t, when I reflect that I’ll need to diet for some time to make up for it.
WHICH/THAT – These are often used interchangeably, but they shouldn’t be. It’s all about essential messages versus nice-to-have, add-on messages. ‘Which’ introduces a nice-to-have message that is not essential to the sentence. ‘That’ introduces a phrase that is essential to the meaning of the sentence. ‘My last cup of coffee, which I drank at a Parisian café, tasted delicious.’ This means that the last cup of coffee I drank tasted great. ‘The last cup of coffee that I drank at the bus station was disgusting.’ This means that, of the four cups of coffee I drank at the bus station, the last one tasted awful. I use this little mantra as a reminder: ‘That is essential, which is nice.’
SUPPOSABLY –> Supposedly. ‘Supposably’ is an actual word, but it doesn’t mean what people most likely want to say when they use it. It means ‘capable of being conceived of’ or ‘possible to suppose’. ‘Supposedly’ means ‘allegedly’.
So you could say, ‘Supposably, global warming could result in many coastal cities being wiped out. Supposedly, sea levels are rising even faster than predicted.’ In normal usage, that ‘supposably’ would most likely be replaced by ‘Conceivably’.
UNDOUBTABLY –> Undoubtedly. Similarly, people tend to get this wrong, although ‘undoubtably’ may be right in some cases. ‘Undoubtably’ means ‘not capable of being doubted’, or ‘it cannot be doubted’. ‘Undoubtedly’ ‘means ‘not questioned or doubted by anyone’. So, Paris is undoubtably the capital of France and undoubtedly a beautiful city.
I could finish with a complicated disclaimer about having no affiliation with Netflix (or Paris, for that matter), but right now I really couldn’t be asked!
See also: common English mistakes.