AOL’s Mangled Advice About Mangled Language 0

I love it when people create posts that offer sage advice about an issue, only to end up delivering as many pieces of bad advice as they do good ones.

In a recent AOL post, which keeps reappearing every few weeks, AOL’s editors offered readers a head’s up on 21 phrases that people often get wrong in their spoken communication.  In other words, sometimes we say things wrong and that makes us sound stupid.

Of the 21, they are dead wrong on five, and probably wrong on four more. Now, remember, AOL is giving readers advice on how to say phrases correctly and, right off the bat, the first one is just plain wrong:

This one is wrong because phase and faze  are homophones, words that sound alike but are spelled differently and have different meanings.  Phase and faze are sounded out in exactly the same manner.

This one could be right or wrong, depending on the context. A person could very well have another thing coming in a series of things, or he might need to rethink a specific answer to a question.

This is another example of a homophone. “Reign,” “rein,”  and, for that matter, “rain” all sound the same, are spelled differently and have different meanings.


Yet another homophone. Low and behold is obviously wrong in written English, but “low” and “lo” are both pronounced the same way.

Actually, AOL is completely wrong on this one. “Spitting image” has a usage history that goes back to the 18th century and is regarded as a standard English “cant” phrase.  The original phrase,”spit and image,” faded out of use more than a century ago.

This is a case where there is no pronunciation issue but, in point of fact, either one of these could be right or wrong, depending on the circumstances because they have the exact opposite meanings. “I could care less,” literally means that you care more than you are required to care. “I couldn’t care less” means that you simply don’t give a fig.

Right around now you are probably wondering why I care about this so much. Well, as a writer and editor, I care about language, and especially about advice that confuses language. As a matter of fact, you could say that the whole question of correct pronunciation piqued my interest because my written vocabulary is much more extensive than my spoken vocabulary and, as a result, I have been known to make a real hash out of certain words and phrases, which brings us to:

Obviously, this is another homophone and, while I could make a case for “peak your interest” under certain circumstances, pique is really the correct word for this phrase.

This is not a homophone, but both phrases are essentially correct because they mean the same thing. In fact, I would maintain that in contemporary English, “hunger pains” is far more commonly used than “hunger pangs,” which is a more literary device.

Another homophone.  “Peace of mind” is clearly right, but that sounds exactly like “piece of mind,” doesn’t it?

That was nine wrong answers out of 21 chances in which the wrong answer isn’t wrong, and sometimes might be the right one.

No big deal, right? After all, it’s just AOL.

AOL has 174 million users, most of whom see AOL’s home page every day because that’s where their email goes. (All 174 million users are email customers. There are probably more that visit the site but don’t use the email service.)

When you have that many users reading what you write, it really behooves you to get it right.