CS Sealey

New Zealand-based sub-editor, writer and author

Eggcorns—commonly misunderstood sayings

We’ve all been there at some point. We’ve heard something said by a peer or on TV or the radio, have understood the meaning and context in which it’s meant to be used, but we misheard exactly how it was said. And since we may not have seen it written down, we simply mimic what we thought we heard the person say. Sometimes, we can get away with it. However, we’re not always so lucky. Instances where we get these words or phrases wrong are called eggcorns (derived from the word ‘acorn’ being misheard, so I am led to believe).
Here are a few examples.

For all intensive purposes

For all intents and purposes means ‘in every practical sense’ or ‘practically speaking’. Despite the fact that ‘for all intensive purposes’ is used widely, it doesn’t make it correct.

“Look, for all intents and purposes, what you have there is nothing short of a copy.”


Regardless of is an idiom that means ‘in spite of’. The birth of the eggcorn ‘irregardless’ comes from the confusion between the words regardless and irrespective, which share the same meaning.

“Regardless of whether you believe he will or not, the Prime Minister did say he would visit the town next week.”

Escape goat

A scapegoat is an individual (or group, generally small in number) singled out and blamed for something they did not do, allowing those who actually did the deed to get off free.

Someone had to be punished for the disturbance, so we found a scapegoat. An example had to be made.

Mute point

A moot point can mean two things, but neither of which involve being muted. Firstly, it could mean a topic open for discussion:

The question of time travel is a moot point among scientists in the field, and will be for some time.

But it can also mean a question that has little or no importance:

“The matter of the missing bouquet is a moot point now that we’ve found this dead body in the pantry!” (Although Miss Marple would probably disagree.)

Nip it in the butt

To ‘nip something in the bud’ is to stop something from happening before it’s had a chance to properly develop. It has nothing to do with injuring bottoms, but instead carries the imagery of chopping down a tree that looks as though it’s going to fall on someone’s house the next time there’s a storm. I luckily never had a problem with this one, thanks to always singing along to Les Miserables.

“One more day to revolution, we will nip in the bud. We’ll be ready for these schoolboys, they will wet themselves with blood!”

In one fowl swoop

Yes. Swooping is bad. In one fell swoop is a phrase that describes many things happening all at once. This saying is quite often used to explain something bad happening, but not exclusively so.

The dragons descended upon the town and, in one fell swoop, they decimated the buildings and all who lived there.

Could care less

I’ve already written an article about this one, but it annoys me so much that it’s worth mentioning twice. If you could care less about something, then you must care a little bit about that something. Whereas if you couldn’t care less about that something, then you’re using proper English.

“I couldn’t care less about your teenage love life, Ash. Please, just stop talking.”

Case and point

Someone would say that X was a ‘case in point’ if it was the perfect example of what was being discussed.

Thomas Bergersen is one of the best composers of his genre and his Illusions album is a case in point. (Seriously, listen to it.)

These are the ones that I come across most often, but if you have any others you’re aware of, let me know, so I can get my blood boiling again!

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