Misused idiom or word of the day – weigh and way

Here’s an odd usage error I had never considered before — thanks to AZCentral’s story about fast food employees signing up for public aid programs:

“Chucri said fast-food restaurants often attract young, low-skilled workers who are students and use the work as a  weigh station to their career aspirations.”

Well, you could convince me that working at McDonald’s might pack the pounds on if you sampled the fare quite regularly, but I’m fairly sure they don’t put the employees on a scale there with any regularity. I’m confident he meant “way stations,” as in an in-between point in the middle of A and B rather than anything involved weight.

Just goes to show you that you have to watch the idioms and common sayings or you’ll wind up with oddities like “tow the line.”

So send me your favorite misused idioms just to wet my appetite or peek my curiosity, and I’ll be sure to pour over them and report back.

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Word of the day – Duel, dual

Both “duel” and “dual” involve two, but one is definitely more deadly.

In a duel, it’s two people or forces battling, as in the classic “pistol at 10 paces.” It also can be more philosophical or metaphorical, as in a duel of wits or teams.

“Dual” just means two often similar things, as in dual citizenship or wheels. It doesn’t necessarily come under “fighting words,” as does duel.

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Word of the day – Compose, comprise

The whole is composed of parts. The parts comprise the whole.

“The American Southwest is composed of the states of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Nevada.”

But:

“Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico comprise the American Southwest.”

Or think of it this way: You compose a song (take all those separate sounds and put them together). You would never say, “Paul McCartny comprised ‘Yesterday.’ ”  But John, Paul, George and Ringo (for some reason, always in that order) comprised The Beatles.

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Word of the day – Oral or verbal

These words often are used interchangeably to mean “spoken.” That’s generally not incorrect, but it’s also not precise — and often not really what is intended.

Oral is the more precise word for that, as it refers to things of the mouth. An “oral exam” is spoken. Depending on the context, an oral exam also could involve squirming in the dentist chair with the mouth wide open.

Verbal relates to words, so a “verbal response” could be spoken or written.

If you are looking for the words to distinguish between spoken and written, probably the best words are “spoken” and “written.”

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Word of the day – Reluctant, reticent

People use these words interchangeably, and while they both refer to hesitation, they’re not exactly the same.

Reticence refers to an unwillingness to speak or discomfort talking. Reluctance is a general unwillingness to act, including the act of speaking.

Reticent fits under the reluctant umbrella. But you can be reluctant about many things beyond speech.

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Word of the day – Wax and wane

The easiest way to remember waxing and waning is to apply them to the moon. The waxing moon is growing, and the waning moon is fading.

Waxing, then, means to gain in intensity or magnitude. Wane means to decrease in that, as in our waning financial security (and let’s pray that the moon cycle metaphor comes back into play here).

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Word of the day – who and that

Who’s a who and what’s a that?

Who that?

A common word mix-up occurs in the “X (who) (that) did Y” construction.

This should be an easy one: Who refers to people and that refers to things.

The error generally is made using that to refer to people, as in “Smith was the wide receiver that scored three touchdowns against State.”

Smith is who, not a that

Try this memory jogger:

Who is you That is fat.

That should discourage the error.

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