Reading,  Writing

Pet Peeves

I’m always interested in hearing what verbal pet peeves people have. (I’m alliterative today, I see! Please pardon my prankish prose.)

Some people don’t approve of a sentence like “Hopefully it will rain today” — they think that “hopefully” should stop being naughty and start behaving like a regular adverb. I think it’s fine and dandy, and this construction is extremely useful.

Some people don’t like splitting infinitives. I think such reservations are ridiculous, and were introduced into English at a very late date anyway, so don’t even have the weight of tradition behind them.

But just when I start to think I’m a language “liberal”, believing (as I do, for the most part) that language change is normal and healthy, and there is no “right” way to talk (or write), I come face to face with my, er, tastes. Tastes? Perhaps I should be honest and call them prejudices. There are just some words, spellings, phrases, and grammatical errors that drive me bonkers. So I will share some of my pet peeves here, and please share yours too! And if you want, do go ahead and tell me my pet peeves are ridiculous.


bobbed wire (or bobwire)
could care less (for couldn’t care less, unless used sarcastically)
decimate (for exterminate — decimate means killing ten percent)
infer (when imply is meant)
lay (used for lie)
literally (when used as merely an intensifier; e.g. “Paris Hilton is literally American royalty”)
more unique, most unique


comprise (in the modern American sense)
livid (meaning either red or angry)

Well, that’s all I can think of at the moment. What are your pet peeves? Do any of my pet peeves strike you as small-minded? Please share!

Cara King,
MY LADY GAMESTER — out now from Signet!!!!

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Pam Rosenthal
16 years ago

I’m a comprise/constitute absolutist; the rack is too good for users of “most unique”; literally should never mean anything but what it actually MEANS. As for pronunciation, “nucular” raises my blood pressure. I’m sure I’ll be back with a few more before the day is out.

Pam (currently writhing under the steely gaze of a very professional copy editor)

16 years ago

Well, I have one non-literary but scientific one that gets me to pull my hair out every four months — the first day of the seasons. All you see on the news is anchors constantly complaining that the first day of Spring has come and gone and Winter still is place. Hate to tell these people, but the first day of a season does not mean the switch automatically gets moved to whatever season it is. The equinoxes and solstices are a day when the Earth hits a particular point in the orbit. Which is why they say the stupid saying of “Spring arrives at *fill in the time of day*”. That’s the moment the Earth hits the point in the orbit. Yes, the weather is gradually changing, but it’s just that, gradually, not overnight. Ugh. Annoys me. Big time. So I automatically put that one down because it’s rather timely.

But word wise, I did just remember one. I picked up a while ago that when one says “Have your cake and eat it too”, you really want to say “eat your cake and have it too” because the first one, yeah, it works. But the saying is basically saying you can have it both, and the second is impossible, which is the saying you want. (Don’t think I explained it well at all. LOL) But hopefully you have an idea. 🙂


Janet Mullany
16 years ago

What a wonderful topic. I hardly know where to start.

Cara, I too go crazy with misuse of lay/lie/laid etc. However, if you say (or sing) Lie, lady, lie, you start sounding like Eliza Doolittle. I do, anyway.

“…second of all…” NO! It’s first, second and so on until Last of all. Where did this come from?

It was/there was/he was etc. contracted to it’s, there’s, he’s. It doesn’t work. It was a dark and stormy night is a description. It’s a dark and stormy night means you need an umbrella.

Enervated confused with energized.

It’s and its misuse. One of the easiest things in the horribly complicated English language, and people still get it wrong.

Janet, looking around for more

Pam Rosenthal
16 years ago

“its” and “it’s” have gotten so thoroughly muddled that MSWord’s grammar checker gets it wrong.

But I do want to put a good word in for the putative misuse of “their” to mean “his or her.” As in, “each Bobbsey Twin finished their homework.” Correct English would have it “his,” but I refuse to accept that.

16 years ago

Great topic, Cara!

I know I’ve seen quite a few horrific misusages lately, but the only one I can remember off hand is the use of “baited breath” (eew!) instead of “bated breath.”

Cara King
16 years ago

Baited breath? Does that involve worms in the mouth or something??? 😀


16 years ago

Not only….but also.

BUT ALSO –> ALSO! Hate it when people leave that off.

First, secondly, third of all. Pick one form and go with it.

Penultimate used as meaning the acme, the height of, the most perfect thing ever. No, just means next to last. Ultimate (last), penultimate (before the last), antepenultimate (third from last) ::happy dance:: Love the word “antepenultimate”. (And if you know the lyrics to Have Some Madeira M’Dear you get three points for knowing why.)

Literally–I think I’ve just given up on this word, I hate it so.

And then I know this guy who keeps saying, “The fact of the matter is…” It’s bothering me; what’s wrong with saying, “The fact is…”?

Bertram St James
16 years ago

I was at risk of marring the perfection of my cravat one day by laughing uproariously when Brummell said “Pliny the Elder” when he meant “Pliny the Younger.” I’m chuckling now just remembering it.

Brummell always was a bit jumped-up. Blood will tell.

Although now I think of it, I don’t supposed that’s exactly a verbal error, is it? More an error of fact. And perhaps my laughing was an error of tact.

Ah well. To know me is to love me.

Bertie the Beau

Pam Rosenthal
16 years ago

Bertie, Thomas Pynchon’s novel MASON AND DIXON features a set of twins named Pitt and Pliny — each of them and both of them being the elder and the younger at the same time. Stuff like that took me about 250 pages in until I gave up.

Amanda McCabe
16 years ago

Baited breath. Yuck. 🙂

I also detest the misuse of “literally”, which just seems to pop up all over the place. And the misuse of apostrophes. Sometimes, say on mailboxes or something like that, I see “The Smith’s.” I always think “The Smith’s what? The Smith’s mailbox???”

16 years ago

I totally agree with your peeves, Cara! Which is not surprising, since of course I am aware that you are always right.

One that bugs me a bit is “disinterested” used to mean “uninterested.” I can understand the error, but it seems like a useful distinction to me.


Elena Greene
16 years ago

Ooh, what a great topic! One of my top peeves is the fear of “me”. I’ve gotten work-related correspondence similar to: “If you have a question about the Riskies, contact Cara or myself”. Or even “contact myself”. Huh? And then there’s “Between you and I”.

Another problem is authors who try to sound erudite but don’t actually know the meanings of the words they’re using. “Sensibility” used to mean “good sense”. And here’s a howler–“epitaph” instead of “epithet”!

As far as Cara’s question about which peeves may be small-minded, all I can say is that if I know it, everyone else should, but if I don’t, it MUST be trivial. 🙂


Janet Mullany
16 years ago

I love bridal-path instead of bridle-path. Yes, I know it’s a romance, but…

If you really enjoy this sort of thing, you should subscribe to The Editorial Eye (of which I’m Assistant Editor, and when forced, a contributor). We’ve had articles recently on contractions, use of “their” (favorable), and other various fascinating (to some) stuff on word usage. Go to

We have a section called “Black Eyes” which contains contributions like this gem:

Rosa Parks died in Michigan at age 92, her lawyer said in her sleep.


Cara King
16 years ago

So true, Elena, so true! I will adopt your wisdom for my own. (My own was already remarkably similar! The line between sensible and petty is the line between what I know and what I don’t know.) 🙂

I agree about people throwing around big words they don’t know because they think it sounds impressive. I mean, any of us can err sometimes in that department, thinking we know a word we don’t, but someone who does it constantly is someone who’s showing off. And even worse, showing off knowledge he or she doesn’t have. It’s not an attractive trait, as it reveals ignorance coupled to vanity!


16 years ago

I am so guilty of the use of “literally” as an emphasizing tool. I really should start a “swear jar” for myself on it.

I have a slightly off-topic addition for this – more on the change in language aspect. I’ve always liked the word “tonite” over “tonight”. Anything else anyone wants to change?

Elena Greene
16 years ago

As the mother of a child who is currently learning to read, I have to continually explain to her about silent gh’s, the fact that any vowel can pretty much make any other vowel’s sound, etc… Part of me yearns for a simpler language.

Then the antiquarian part of me rebels.

If I took “tonite”, which I think is cute in some contexts, I’d also have to take “lite”. Not sure I like that.


16 years ago

I’d still fight (or fite, I guess) to keep lite on the sidelines, though delite is a possibility. I guess the root words should remain, it’s the addition of the prefix that makes it interesting.


16 years ago

I hate it when people use irregardless instead of regardless. I know you can use irregardless in nonstandard conversation and writing.

Megan Frampton
16 years ago

Cara, chiming in late to tell you most of your peeves are also mine…and decimate is a particular peeve of my Editor Spouse, who applauds you from the off-line sidelines.

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