September 25, 2022

Helping PR pros make smarter decisions

Things that bug me more than they should.

Things that bug me more than they should.

I have a tendency to think that blog posts need to be researched, thought through, developed–and, quite frankly, this mentality gets in the way of writing as often as I should. It’s the perfectionists’ curse, and it’s particularly harmful in blogging.

I’ve kept a running list of things I see online that bug me, and after seeing yet another last night on Twitter, I decided to just throw down a list. This has little relevance from a PR or social media perspective, unless, well, you are a PR practitioner making these mistakes. But I doubt it–most of these are pretty rudimentary errors, but they are everywhere.

  1. First, the one that spurred the list. I saw, last night on Twitter a fairly well-known commentator refer to “waiting with baited breath.” Baited? Like, with bait? No. The correct form is “bated breath.” Here’s the history. It’s a short form of abated, apparently.
  2. Everyday vs. every day. People seem to use the first incorrectly fairly often. If you are talking about something you do daily, like taking a walk, you say “I take a walk every day.” If you are talking about something that is commonplace, use the other form: “She wore her everyday jeans to the opera.” (But don’t do that. Wear something nice to the opera.)
  3. Must of/would of/should of. These drive me bonkers–they are flat-out wrong. It’s mistaking the sound of “would’ve” (contraction of would have) and translating it to “would of.” It is “I would’ve gone with you, but I had other things to do.” Saying “I would of gone with you” does not make sense. At all.
  4. This next one is, I’m sure, a product of my Political Science degree and years in politics, but I see this error all the time online–sometimes, amazingly, even in professional publications. When one is referring to political parties, the word is capitalized. A Republican proposal, a Democrat legislator. When one is referring to the political theories, they are lower case: a republican form of government, a direct democracy.
  5. Peace of mind versus piece of my mind.  This one cracks me up. When discussing something that reassures you, it provides you “peace of mind.” When you are annoyed, and want to get something out in the open, you give someone “a piece of your mind.” When I see “well, having a backup plan just gives me piece of mind,” I can’t help but think “which part?”
  6. “A lot” is not one word. It just isn’t. And every time I see “alot” I think of this: The Alot is better than you at everything.
  7. It’s versus its. I have my own theory as to why this is wrong so often–I’ve had both Word and the auto-fill on my Android phone switch my correct use of this to the incorrect form. (Word gives me that annoying green under-squiggly that suggests I have a grammatical problem.) If you can read the sentence and say “it is” use it’s. Example: It’s not that hard to remember this. If you are referring to the possessive, then: “the dog chased its tail.” If you say “it is” in that sentence, it doesn’t make sense anymore. “The dog chased it is tail?” No.  Its.

So, there you have it. Seven things that bug me way more than they should. I was going to add compliment vs. complement, but while I was writing this, posted “7 Language Errors that Spell-check Will Miss,” so that’s already been covered.

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About The Author

Jennifer Zingsheim Phillips is the Director of Marketing Communications for CARMA. She is also the founder of 4L Strategies, and has worked in communications and public affairs for more than 20 years. Her background includes work in politics, government, lobbying, public affairs PR, content creation, and digital and social communications and media analysis.

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    Shel Holtz

    You should start a wiki, Jen, so we can add our own favorites to it! In addition to its/it's, I'm driven crazy by "very unique" (and all its various permutations, like "sort of unique" and "kind of unique"). It's like saying, "mostly dead." "Unique" means "one of a kind." Something can't be "very" or "kind of" one of a kind!

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    Oh, this post is just outstanding, Jen. Encouraging you to crank out posts like these more often! You needn't be perfect; you just need to make sure you don't mix up it's/its!

    Donna Papacosta

    Jen, you must be my sista from anotha motha. I feel your pain. These are all my pet peeves.

    Jenna Woodul

    I love the wiki idea! Here's another one that drives me nuts: Affect is a verb and effect is a noun. "Affect" is the doing that causes the "effect." I want people to keep these two straight!

    Linda Johannesson

    Love it – "irregardless" of whether I agree.
    In fact, there may be others who "could care less" or is that "couldn't care less"? I know it to be the latter (but some insist it's not the "ladder" but the former.)
    Bryan, yes, I think Grammar Girl has covered a number of these in here brilliant podcasts. Thanks all…long live grammar (and Grandma, too!)


    Oooooh…my pet peeve is…well, pet peeves. Are there such things as wild peeves? Untamed peeves? Some peeves are domesticated, but some are kept as pets?

    I guess the difference is that one can eat a peeve, but should not consume a pet peeve?

    LOVE this post! 🙂

    Dan York

    Awesome post, Jen! Irregardless of the very unique affect of the comments here, its worth noting that everyday alot of people do indeed make these mistakes and use these peeves when they should of used something else. I'd like to give them a peace of my mind, but sadly my sanity has departed. I await your next post like this with baited breath!


    Francis Moran

    I'm with Shel and the others here who suggested a wiki; I could make an entry a day for life!

    Aside from the misuse of language, two expressions that set me off every time I hear them are, "He walks the talk" and "The proof is in the pudding." How the heck does one "walk the talk?" And, as my wife and I often say, someday we want find that pudding full of proofs!

    Proper use is, of course, "He can talk the talk but can he walk the walk?" meaning, is he all talk and no action? And, "The proof of the pudding is in the eating," meaning, you can't tell the value of something just by looking at it; you must delve into to to be certain. The hackneyed versions I referenced at the outset viciously beggar the impact of these evocative expressions.

    Thanks for the chuckle.

    Gini Dietrich

    I'm adding three:
    1. Impact: You can have impacted teeth, a plane can combust on impact, but you cannot have an impact on something. I think people use that because they don't know the difference between effect and affect. There are two for your wiki!
    2. Utilize: Come on, people! Are you really so smart you can't just say use?
    3. Over and under: You can jump over something and you can walk under something, but you cannot have a number that is over another one. It's more than or less than. Now you're going to revise billboards in your head every day.

      Jen Zingsheim

      Gini, the over/under makes me nuts too. I see it all the time in ad copy and billboards–I get why they do it (it is shorter to write, allowing them to use larger font) but yes, I feel like I'm constantly proofreading everything.

    Karl Plath

    How about "Where are you at? or "Where are you going to?" or similar? Who needs that ending preposition?


    Agreement of "anyone", "everyone", "nobody", "somebody", etc. with the third-person plural, rather than singular. Even worse, if the impersonal party is "the customer". I often see training instructions such as, "Tell the customer to turn on their computer," instead of the correct, "Tell the customer to turn on his computer".

    "Got to" or "gotta" instead of "have to", with appropriate agreement. "I gotta get to the store today" instead of "I have to go to the store today."

    Use of the second-person "you" in place of the third-person impersonal/neuter "one": "You have to attend four meetings before you can be considered for membership" (are we making a special case for you?) as opposed to "One must attend four meetings before he can be considered for membership".

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