Fluent writers and speakers use literary devices and expressions such as idioms and proverbs as they seek to add dynamism and character to their writing or speech. Though we use them often in our day to day conversations, you may be surprised to know that many of them are misunderstood and therefore wrongly used. Language is ever evolving and over time, these sayings which have been misinterpreted, become widespread, are accepted and replace the original phrases. Let’s take a look at well-known idioms and sayings that are often misunderstood.
1. A Rolling Stone Gathers No Moss
We’ve heard this many times before, but what does it mean? This saying grew in popularity during the Renaissance when Erasmus, in 1500, published a collection of proverbs. It originally had a negative connotation and meant social irresponsibility. It spoke to the weakness of being rootless and not committing to family or career. This saying now denotes something different, particularly in youth culture where it means freedom, adventure and being free-spirited. Accepting its negative connotation or its contemporary use, is all a matter of perspective.
2. You Have Another Think Coming
Yes you may have read this thinking that it’s just an error but it isn’t. People often say “you have another thing coming” but this is a common error. The word “think” is often replaced with “thing”. This phrase is used to tell someone that they are wrong and should reconsider and adopt a different viewpoint. This is an example of an eggcorn, a phrase resulting from mishearing and misinterpretation of another. “Another think coming” was the original phrase and its earliest use was spotted in an Ohio newspaper in 1892 and “another thing coming” was seen in a New York newspaper from 1897.
3. I Couldn’t Care Less
The correct phrase “I couldn’t care less” is often replaced by “I could care less” which actually carries a totally different meaning, but are used interchangeably. The former means that you do not care about something at all while the latter means you do care a bit. So which of these have you been meaning to say and what have you really been communicating?
4. A Moot Point
A moot point is today referred to as a fact that is unimportant and not worth mentioning or is not relevant in a given situation. However, many people can be caught saying “a mute point.” While moot and mute are pronounced differently, persons seem to mishear the word moot. The word is not the only thing that has changed over time. Have you considered what a moot point really is? A moot point originally meant a topic at a moot. A moot was used to refer to a meeting of people for judicial purposes. The moot point would therefore be the issues or topics being discussed by the participants of the moot.
5. Pull Yourself Up by Your Bootstraps
This phrase should definitely not be taken literally as it is impossible to use your bootstraps to pull yourself up. Don’t just take it from me. Go ahead, put your boots on and try it. This expression was originally used to refer to a task that is impossible to achieve or to attempt to do something absurd. In the 1920s, this meaning began to evolve to its understanding today. It is now used as a motivational saying, to encourage someone to do something without the help of others, even though it may be difficult.
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