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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 :)

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Aug. 19th, 2009 12:36 pm (UTC)
Ah, the word decimate. One of my favourite misused words, or so I thought. I used to enjoy hearing it, particularly in rap songs (raps) when someone would threaten to decimate someone and I'd wonder which one tenth of them they would kill. (Apparently the "they" construction when referring back to a gender neutral person earlier in the sentence is also now quite legit, just thought I'd mention.) But then I read an article in "The Guardian" which misused the word "decimate," and I thought, "how unlikely," so I researched it, and apparently decimate has officially passed into popular usage and the old meaning of it is only historical. Sad, but there you go.

Oh, and I'm pretty certain I can smell blood.We once came across an accident where a sheep had been badly injured by a car. The poor thing had lost loads of blood and there was a most peculiar heavy smell in the air. As I am familiar with the smell of sheep and shit, I presume it was blood I could smell.
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Aug. 19th, 2009 12:59 pm (UTC)
Yes, and mostly when there's blood where it shouldn't be, outside your body, there's a crisis. :)
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Aug. 19th, 2009 01:04 pm (UTC)
The somewhat dubious advantage of dying by instant splatter. :)
Aug. 19th, 2009 03:51 pm (UTC)
I've always thought adrenaline tasted of metal.
Aug. 19th, 2009 01:27 pm (UTC)
Ugh--I HATE the use of 'they' as a non-gendered replacement for 'he/she.' Ughughugh!!! Grammar and standardized spelling is a fairly new concept in human evolution. Some argue that it's as good a thing as it is a bad one. While it makes for less confusion when reading/writing, it also stagnates a language. Once there are grammar rules to adhere to, standard spellings and definitions, words take a lot longer to evolve. Take the cited 'decimate' for example. The etymological history of the word is right there for anyone who can decipher it--but most don't bother with such things. The word took a long time to go from 'one of ten' to 'demolish completely;" but it did evolve. It wouldn't have taken so long in a non-written language.

Those languages that have no written words and rules and such (usually primative languages spoken by very few people outside of a specific island or African village) evolve constantly. The language of the grandfather is NOT the language of the great-grandson. If grandpa rose from the dead, he'd not be able to understand a thing anyone was saying. Not so with English and other such written languages. If Charlie Dickens came back to visit 2009 London, he'd be just fine.

Language evolves, quickly or slowly, whether we like it or not. :)
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Aug. 19th, 2009 02:08 pm (UTC)
Apparently, it offends many (and I could never refer to a baby as it either, so I guess me too!) And saying 'he or she' all the time is tedious, so I do understand the need for 'they' as a singular non-gendered option. It's also perfectly acceptable even in written works nowadays. It's one of those things that just doesn't sound right to my ear--though neither does it. Tis a puzzlement.
Aug. 19th, 2009 03:55 pm (UTC)
I don't mind 'they' for he/she, because it makes the sentence less cumbersome (to me). But I cringe when I hear someone say they, sorry he/she, could care less instead of couldn't care less.

I'm living proof of the evolved language thing. As you know, I don't often swear, so the language of my old gran is definitely not the language of her grandson ;)
Aug. 19th, 2009 04:43 pm (UTC)
Ah, old gran. I'm sure she could care less about swearing. ;)
Aug. 19th, 2009 04:48 pm (UTC)
Lol. You're not ficken wrong about that ;)
Aug. 19th, 2009 05:05 pm (UTC)

Things What I Wrote and Other Stuff

No longer in print but there are still some copies floating around out there

No longer in print but there are still some copies floating around out there



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