In the comments on the last entry, Anne asked whether there is a difference between a vicious “circle” and a vicious “cycle.” Actually, these two expressions have the same meaning, and both are commonly used, although I think “circle” is probably the original. Last week on a BBC radio show that I often listen to, they did a feature on common sayings and expressions that people get wrong. (I am talking about native speakers of English, not learners.)
People make mistakes in their own language for a number of reasons. With common expressions and phrases, this often happens in English because someone mishears someone else (often a parent), and then starts using the expression wrongly themselves. One good example of this is the expression “I couldn’t care less.” The meaning of this phrase is “I don’t care at all. In fact, it would not be possible for me to care any less than I do, because that amount is zero.” In everyday English, however, it is common to hear people say “I could care less,” which doesn’t make any sense at all.
Another one I hear a lot is “I did it off my own back.” This should be “I did it off my own bat.” It is a metaphor taken from the sport of cricket, and it means that you did something without anyone else’s help. “Off my own back” has no meaning at all, but it is amazing how many people say it.
Here is an article from a UK newspaper that lists some other common mistakes.
It is not just sayings like these that native speakers get wrong because they mishear them. The same thing happens with everyday language. Have you heard of the song “It must of been love”? No, neither have I! The correct title is “It must have been love,” but in phrases like “must have” and “could have,” the word “have” is pronounced in a way that makes it sound like “of,” and a large number of people in the UK now actually think that is correct.
A man who lives near my parents in Wales runs his own business advising people on the language used on their websites. He told me that almost every site he looks at has serious mistakes in either grammar, spelling, or both. I have another friend who is a financial adviser, and when I looked at his company’s website, I found mistakes in almost all of the staff introductions. One of the most common mistakes is the incorrect use of apostrophes, particularly the difference between “it’s” and “its.” You would not believe how many native speakers of English are not sure of the difference between those two words. Other common mistakes are “your/you’re” and “their/there/they’re.”
Anyway, I thought that as learners of English, it might cheer you up to know that native speakers use the language incorrectly all the time. I was also thinking that it might be interesting to discuss some things that Japanese people often get wrong in Japanese. That would probably cheer learners like me up!
Look forward to hearing your ideas.