Jon Gibbs (jongibbs) wrote,
Jon Gibbs

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“You keep on using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

When it comes to sentence structure and grammar, I’m often out of my depth. I tend to use too many commas, I hate semi-colons, and in my pre-marital days, I often ended a “Goodnight” sentence with a proposition.


Despite my lack of grammatical skills, I’m not too bad when it comes to spotting misconceptions about the meaning/use of certain words or phrases. Literary boo-boos if you will.


I don’t mean the ones where writers confuse their ‘there’s with their ‘they’re’s [and you can bet I checked that line a half dozen times]. I’m talking about the deliberately chosen, but factually incorrect, type of boo-boo.


Fire an arrow? Only if it's committed a sackable offence

When I did archery back in the seventies, the first thing the instructor told me – aside from saying that I was holding the bow back to front – was that you don’t ‘fire’ an arrow (not even a fire-arrow), you loose it, or shoot it.

Decimated – it’s not as bad as you think

If an attacking force is decimated, that doesn’t mean that most of them are killed, far from it.


The term comes from Roman times, when the punishment for a unit which fled the battlefield was decimation. The unfortunate soldiers drew straws, after which the one in ten (even more unfortunate) soldiers who’d drawn the shortest straws were stoned to death by their comrades, as a warning for anyone else in the army feeling less than courageous.
Smelly blood? Only if someone’s been drinking

Okay, so this as a misconception, rather than a mis-use, but I think it's worth noting that, aside from vampires and werewolves, who apparently have more sensitive nostrils than us mere mortals, people can’t smell blood. I learned this from Lew Preschel, a writer friend and retired doctor with many years of E.R. experience, though he did tell me the exception was when the patient had been drinking alcohol, in which case the stench was hard to ignore.

Cockney rhyming slang - I don't Adam and Eve it

I was born in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, in the north east of England, so I can’t claim any natural-born expertise here, but isn’t the whole point of using Cockney-rhyming slang to make it hard for eavesdroppers to understand what's being said?

Assuming that’s correct, having supposedly authentic Cockney characters say things like ‘plates of meat’ [feet], and ‘apples and pears’ [stairs] makes no sense. Wouldn’t they just say ‘plates’ and ‘apples’?


Vikings – a mythical race with illogical headgear (who may have invented cupholders)

Did you know that Vikings never existed. 'Viking' isn’t even a name, it’s a verb. It was something the Danes did when they weren’t trading (admittedly they did a heck of a lot of it).


While we’re on the subject, there’s no evidence to support the idea that the Danes had horns on their helmets either, which is probably just as well, since they wouldn’t be a smart thing to wear in a fight – the helmet would get knocked off too easily.

So why do we have this image of Vikings sorry, Danes, with horned helmets?

I have a theory about this.

We know they drank out of horns. Is it possible that, in addition to discovering America, they also invented the world’s first cup-holders? Of course, they’d have to take them off their helmets before going into a proper battle, but most of the time they faced little opposition, so they may well have taken their cups along in case they wanted to stop for a quick drink on the way back to the longboat.

Of course, I could be wrong.


How about you? What misused words or general misconceptions have you come across?

Editors note:  As of 12:35pm, we've had 72 comments and nobody's disagreed with my Viking Danish cup-holder theory.  Perhaps there's something to it after all :)
Tags: fiction, writing

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