The View from My Kitchen

Benvenuti! I hope you enjoy il panorama dalla mia cucina Italiana -- "the view from my Italian kitchen,"-- where I indulge my passion for Italian food and cooking. From here, I share some thoughts and ideas on food, as well as recipes and restaurant reviews, notes on travel, and a few garnishes from a lifetime in the entertainment industry.

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Friday, July 3, 2015

Seven Words and Phrases People Badly Misuse

I Do So Miss William F. Buckley, Jr.

I could care less about going mano y mano with people who say “verse.” They are just looking for an
escape goat and even though it's a mute point, it wrecks havoc, irregardless.

Did that all sound okay to you? If it did, you're one of the people toward whom this article is directed. The entire statement is made up of commonly misused words and phrases.

Normally I go off on people for bad Italian usage and pronunciation, but improper English grinds my gears just as quickly. And lately there's been a lot of gear grinding going on because I have been subjected to this semantic slaughter either by real life people I know or by individuals on TV. Although there are a ton of malapropian gaffes and strange pseudo-idioms floating around out there, let's look at a few of the more egregious ones.

I could care less.

I was watching something where a woman spouted, “I could care less about that.” Given the context of the statement, I assume she intended to convey the fact that she, indeed, could not have cared less about it. But that's not what she said. Saying that you could “care less” about something implies that you do care about whatever it is, at least to some extent. What people who say this usually mean to say is that they don’t care at all about whatever it is they are not caring about, hence “I couldn’t care less about that” would have been the correct way to phrase the statement. What the woman said indicated that she was capable of having less concern rather than implying that it would have been impossible for her to do so. Saying what she actually meant would have required her to think about what she was saying and that was apparently too much of a task for her infinitesimal intellect.

Mano y mano, or mano a mano.

There was this guy on TV who said to another guy, "Okay. Let's go. Just you and me, mano y mano.” And I thought to myself, “They're going to hold hands? How nice.”

“Mano y mano” is supposed to be a manly phrase used by manly men who apparently think that saying something in Spanish is going to make them sound even more manly. I'm not sure when it happened, but somewhere in the fairly recent past, some English-speaking idiot or other got the idea that adding an “o” to the English word “man” turned it into the Spanish word for man and they started saying “mano y mano” when they wanted to sound tough and say “man to man.” “I'm gonna take you on man to man.” Sounds tough, right? But when you say it in a foreign language, it sounds even tougher, right? Even though it's the wrong phrase for the action intended.

The Spanish word for “man” is “hombre.” (I hope I don't have to mention the silent “h” there.) “Mano” is Spanish for “hand.” “Y” (pronounced “ee”) is Spanish for “and.” Therefore, “mano y mano” is not Spanish for the manly “man to man.” It is Spanish for “hand and hand.” The image of these two tough guys skipping along hand and hand is kinda funny. Funnier still would be “mano en mano,” which translates to “hand in hand,” but I haven't heard that one yet.

Now, some tough guys say, “mano a mano.” That's much more manly. That means “hand to hand,” and it traces its origins back to the bullfighting ring. “Hand to hand” is a much more aggressive way to duke it out than “hand and hand,” don't you agree? “Mano a mano” implies the desired spirit of single combat. Makes my testosterone level go up just thinking about it. But it still doesn't mean, “man to man.” That would actually be “hombre a hombre,” which doesn't flow nearly as nicely. When you mean “man to man” why not just say “man to man” and forget about sounding all macho?

Versus” versus “verse.”

Another thing that gets my linguistic goat is hearing people say “verse” when they mean “versus.” Usually abbreviated “vs” or just “v,” especially in legal usage, “versus” means “in contrast to” or “as opposed to.” “White versus black.” “On versus off.” “Roe versus Wade.” Going back to the fifteenth century, the word originates in Middle English taken from Medieval Latin. It means “so as to face,” taken from the past participle of “vertere,” meaning “to turn.” And it most definitely has two distinct syllables – VER-sus – with the accent falling on the first syllable. Now, I don't know if the current trend of shortening it to “verse” is an attempt at expressing a vocal abbreviation, if it's lexical laziness, or if it's just a matter of people's tongues getting wrapped around their eyeteeth so they can't see what they're saying, but it drives me nuts! It is, for example, “right ver-sus wrong,” not “right verse wrong,” you bunch of witless illiterates!

An “escape goat.”

The common English term “scapegoat” has biblical origins, derived from a Hebrew word used in Leviticus, in which a goat was sent out into the desert after the sins of the people had been symbolically laid upon it. In modern usage, the term “scapegoat” refers to a person who is singled out, usually without merit, for blame or negative treatment.

An “escape goat,” however, is merely an animal that got away.

It's a “mute point.”

I know a couple of people who use (misuse) this one all the time. A point or matter that is moot is one that is subject to debate, dispute, or interpretation. It goes back to Medieval England wherein a “moot” was an assembly of people who exercised administrative or judicial authority. You brought your case, or your point of law, before a moot for discussion and interpretation, hence making it “a moot point.” As moots became obsolete, moot points came to refer to irrelevant or obsolete discussions.

“Mute,” on the other hand, denotes an inability to speak or articulate. Another variant of “mute,” one which has fallen out of favor in the uber-PC present, is “dumb.” And I think people who go around making “mute points” certainly qualify as dumb.

Wreck havoc.

There is a difference between “wreck” (rek) and “wreak” (reek). The verb “wreak” means to inflict, to unleash, to carry out. “Havoc,” of course, is synonymous with devastation and destruction. Which is also what “wreck” basically means. You may, therefore, properly wreak or inflict devastation upon something, but is it even possible to “destroy” devastation, as you would be doing if you “wrecked” it?


A lot of people say it. A lot of people are wrong. Well......maybe not entirely, unfortunately. While most sources claim that “irregardless” is a made-up word, possibly made up of combining “irrespective” and “regardless,” Merriam-Webster vows there is such a word. However, the dictionary barely recognizes it, stating, “It is still used primarily in speech, although it can be found from time to time in edited prose. Its reputation has not risen over the years, and it is still a long way from general acceptance.” And most well-spoken people do not accept it. For one thing, it's redundant. The prefix “ir” means “not.” As in “irrelevant,” meaning “not relevant.” Well, the word “regardless” already means “without regard” or “not regarding.” So does adding a prefix that means “not” to a word that means “not” make any sense to any reasonable person? I think not. Regardless of whether “irregardless” is a real word or not, just stick with “regardless.”

(Sigh) I do so miss William F. Buckley, Jr.

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