Many times, especially in business settings, people use words that they think they know — but don't.
Although they do this in an effort to sound intelligent and sophisticated, it backfires badly, because even one small slipup can cause an audience to focus on only that, not the speaker's ideas.
As writers of several grammar books, we've dealt with many confused and misused words and phrases in American English. Here are some of the most common ones:
Two words with only a "d" to tell them apart, but are used very differently. Usually, a person is averse about something, whereas a thing or situation is adverse. Another difference: In most cases, if it comes right before a noun, it should be "adverse" and not "averse."
Switching "effect" and "affect" is one of the most common errors students make on SAT and ACT exams. "Affect" is almost always a verb meaning to act upon, to make a change to something. "Effect" is usually a noun, and typically means a change that happened already, one that resulted from something else acting on it.
It's "champing," although many people say "chomping," so you won't raise too many eyebrows if you say it incorrectly. This phrase has been around at least since 1577, when referred to horses anxiously grinding — or champing — their teeth before a race. Now it refers more to people super-eager to do something.
Remember, you don't copywrite what you wrote, you copyright it. "Copyright" is a legal right (notice the "right") giving the creator of an original work the exclusive legal entitlement to it. "Copywriting" is something people in advertising do — they write copy (or text). Incidentally, no one says "copywrite" without the "ing," they "write copy."
It's "deep-seated," not "deep-seeded." You can see from the original meaning: Having its seat far beneath the surface. The phrase soon came to mean "firmly established" (except maybe in mostly tournament sports, where "seeding" refers to ranking of competitors).
"Discreet" means capable of keeping secrets or unobtrusive. "Discrete" means separate or distinct. Both come from the same Latin word, but evolved to become very distinct words that are frequently confused. We've seen sex toys advertised as being shipped in "discrete" packages, which only means they're being shipped separately.
"First come, first served" is right. It generally means that the customers who come to a store or a place first get served first. Without the "d" at the end of "serve," it sounds like the first person has to serve everyone else. Not much of an advantage for early birds.
It should be "for all intents and purposes." "Intensive" is an adjective meaning vigorous or exhaustive. "Intents" is a noun meaning purpose. They're obviously not interchangeable. (Even when used correctly, this phrase is often frowned upon as a cliche. There are simpler ways to say what it means, like "essentially.")
Never say "honing in." You home in. "Homing in" initially described carrier pigeons returning to their homes, then, by the 1920s, described aircraft and missiles being guided to a target. From there, it came to generally mean anyone or anything focusing on or directed towards a goal. "Hone," on the other hand, means "to sharpen," as with a knife.
It's "in regard to." Or better yet, just say "regarding." You can say "as regards," or offer someone your "best regards," both with the "s." But in regard to "in regards to," leave that "s" off!
If, like all too many people, you said "should of," well, you should have picked the second version. "Have" is the main verb part of this phrase, and it should always be included, either as the complete "have" or the contraction "'ve." The wrong "of" usage comes from how that contraction sounds.
Simplistic means "characterized by a great deal of simplicity" — which sounds good, but almost always means too much simplicity, as in an overly simple solution to a complex problem. (And never modify simplistic with "overly" or similar words. Since "simplistic" already means overly simple, "overly simplistic" means something is "overly, overly simple.")
Can a road ever be easy to hoe? To make sense, it should be a "tough row to hoe," which originally comes from farming. In a cornfield, there are many rows, and some can be much harder to hoe than others. Ask any farmer. But because roads are more common than rows in today's urbanized world, people commonly (and wrongly) say "tough road to how."
Always go with "toe the line." No one knows where this phrase originated — maybe from runners putting their toes on their marks in a race. We should toe the line — meaning to accept or conform to a rule or standard … like using "toe" instead of "tow."
Kathy and Ross Petras are the brother-and-sister co-authors of "Awkword Moments: A Lively Guide to the 100 Terms Smart People Should Know," "You're Saying It Wrong" and "That Doesn't Mean What You Think It Means: The 150 Most Commonly Misused Words and Their Tangled Histories." Their work has been featured in The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post and Harvard Business Review.