25 Commonly Misused Words and Phrases Inspired By Iniga Montoya

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

– Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride

Have you ever come out of a meeting with an international client that resulted in a lost opportunity because of something you said? 

When it comes to transacting business globally, having command of the English language remains a necessity.

Today, most English-speaking people are not only communicating with native English speakers. They’re communicating and collaborating with clients from around the world.

It’s much like the words of the beloved The Princess Bride character, Inigo Montoya. 

In one scene, Montoya grows tired of his pal misusing the word ‘inconceivable’. In retort, Montoya replies: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Thanks to this much-loved 1987 romantic comedy, this phrase is now used to call out someone’s flawed use of a word or phrase.

It’s one thing to watch the cult characters bumbling over the word ‘inconceivable’. But to have such a phrase muttered to you during a presentation can be the means to a very quick end for your sales pitch.

Oh, and not to mention, hugely embarrassing.

By following our below guide, you’ll increase your knowledge of what turns of phrase, words and idioms to avoid so that another downhill sales pitch doesn’t take place. 

That way, you’ll be crushing quotas and having your co-workers cry…

inconceivable!

Here’s what we’ll cover:

Commonly Misused Words 

Some have said that the language of business is English or Mandarin. But some say that the ‘true’ language of business is accounting. Either way, we’re left with a chock full o’ words.

And yes, even the biggest wordsmiths among us misuse them, so to end the embarrassment once and for all, let’s make clear those words you keep using. 

10 Words That Don’t Mean What You Think They Do
  1. Literally
  2. Too, to and two
  3. Whom and whom
  4. Irregardless and regardless
  5. Supposably and supposedly
  6. Expresso and espresso
  7. Phase and faze
  8. Should of and should have
  9. Criteria
1. Literally

Literally is, er, literally a tough word to understand. But why the confusion? Both native and non-native English speakers alike understand the intent behind the message. They want to convey a level of seriousness to a phrase when, in fact, they mean to use the word ‘figuratively’.

Consider a conference call comment such as, “We are literally going to lose this contract if you don’t get Mary on the phone RIGHT NOW!”. You understand that the team is not going to actually miss their bid. Instead, they’re expressing the urgency and stress of not having Mary on the telephone!

2. Too, to and two

‘Too’, ‘two’, and ‘to’ are classics that any good communicator, copywriter and ad agent with any level of language skills can get tripped up on. Especially if your spell checker is limited in understanding the context of how you’re using it. That’s right, spell checker hasn’t taken over the world…yet.

3. Then and than

The same could be said for ‘then’ and ‘than’. Both are grammatically correct, but ‘then’ conveys a sequence in time, while ‘than’ is meant as a comparison.

4. Who and whom

‘Who’ versus ‘whom’ – you may need to return to your very first English language lessons to better understand the meaning of these words. The rule is to use ‘who’ in the place of a subject and ‘whom’ in the place of the object.

Before you dive back into your grammar books, though, remember that if you’re writing copy or getting ready for a presentation, simply stick with what you know and sounds ‘right’. UK spelling uses the latter while the former should be reserved for North American spelling.

 

commonly-misused-words

 

5. Irregardless and regardless

‘Irregardless’ has been so misused over the years because it’s a double negative. And to the consternation of many ‘proper’ English speakers, it is now considered a word.

This doesn’t mean one should use the word regardless, but, rather, rely on regardless (i.e., without regard) and irrespective (i.e., no matter the context or subject matter) as a replacement. 

6. Supposably and supposedly

Announcement. ‘Supposably’ is not a word! But it’s one that both non-native and native English speakers say when trying to enunciate the correct word. ‘Supposedly’ that means to accept something in general or anecdotally.

7. Expresso and espresso

If you find yourself in a meeting and in need of a coffee, that you don’t request the ‘expresso’. Rather, you request for the ‘espresso’ since the former does not mean what you think it means!

8. Phase and faze

‘Phase’ is meant to convey periods of time in which to get work done. ‘Faze’ signals that someone’s disturbed, worried or surprised. ‘He was not fazed by her display of anger.’

9. Should of and should have

‘Should of’ and ‘should have’ can trip up even the best editors. But it’s easy to remember once you know that the shoulds, coulds, and woulds of the world must be followed by another verb. Should have, could have, would have. Never use ‘of’.

10. Criteria 

‘Criteria’ is another word that many linguists in both the academic as well as professional sense have long since given up on. For the singular, ‘criterion’ is grammatically correct versus ‘criteria’ which is the plural.

But do not overthink this last one. In fact, don’t correct someone when you understand their meaning and are in the midst of a meeting.

Afterward (not afterword (there’s your bonus!)), just channel your inner Mr. Montoya and say to yourself, ‘You keep using that word. I do not think this word means what you think it means.’

Writing down your goals can help you earn up to 10 TIMES more in salary. Read more in Why Writing Down Your Goals is the Key to Accomplishing Them.”

Commonly Misused Phrases

10 phrases that you don’t want to misuse
  1. Literally
  2. Too, to and two
  3. Whom and whom
  4. Irregardless and regardless
  5. Supposably and supposedly
  6. Expresso and espresso
  7. Phase and faze
  8. Should of and should have
  9. Criteria
 
1. Nip it in the bud

If you’re trying to squash a competitor’s initiative, be sure to ‘nip it in the bud’ and not the, er, ‘butt’! This idiom may add confusion to meeting’s being held with international clients who are unfamiliar with phrases like these. Keep them to a minimum.

2. Bear with me

In keeping with the strange imagery, if you ever ask someone to ‘bear with me’ as you make your point, well, this could conjure up images of mass conference room underdressing (bare versus bear). Instead, save the ‘bare with me’ remarks for your partner. 

3. I couldn’t care less

Even if you’re locked in a conference room or training seminar all day, try to convey your feelings accurately. If you don’t care about something, say ‘I couldn’t care less’ instead of ‘I could care less.’ The latter means you care a little bit. 

4. For all intents and purposes

Writers beware. This next one is a doozy and would leave Inigo crassly remarking that ‘I don’t think that means what you think it means’. If you catch yourself saying, ‘for all intensive purposes’, what you mean here is actually ‘for all intents and purposes’.

5. I need leeway

Take care when telling your project managers or employees that you’re giving them ‘leeway’ and not ‘leadway’. ‘Leadway’ is not actually a word or a part of the phrase.

6. Are we on the same page?

If you’re new to communicating in an international context, then you may want to avoid saying things like, ‘Well, now we are all on the same page’. Or, ‘Looks like we’re singing from the same sheet of music!’. While appropriate for English-speaking audiences, this could cause non-English speaking others to scratch their heads and miss your point entirely. This could mean that your point is missed entirely.

7. I’m being made a scapegoat

As with any business interaction, try never to assign blame, but if you must, ensure that it is to a ‘scapegoat’ and not ‘an escape goat’. The latter is nonexistent, well, for those with limited imaginations, anyway.

8. That’s a self-deprecating statement

Do take care that you’re always ‘self-deprecating’ and not ‘self-depreciating’. If you keep saying the latter, then someone might protest with “I do not think it means what you think it means.”

9. I’m trying to hone-in on my skills

It turns out all these years of saying, ‘Honed in’, has been a lie and should, in fact, be replaced with ‘home in’. To ‘home in’ on something means to move towards your destination or goal. For example, the missile homed in on the target. But to ‘hone’ it means to sharpen, I honed my cooking skills’. 

10. Extras commonly misused phrases 

Lastly, also try to avoid painting pictures in someone’s mind if you’re unsure of your audience’s language prowess. Consider limited use of the following:

  • This task will be a piece of cake!
  • Do not spill the beans on the upcoming merger!
  • TGIF! Let your hair down people!
  • He got egg on his face after speaking with the client.
  • You bet I ate his lunch after he came crawling back for his job.

 

commonly-misused-words-and-phrases

Cultural Considerations

There are a lot of words, phrases, and situations that can place both native and non-native speakers in compromising positions.

Keeping things simple when using English is never a bad idea. Over 67 percent of all international jobs require cross-cultural communication (written and spoken). 

In other words, it’s time to pay attention to speaking in more simple ways. Countries notorious for lower english proficiency levels include Thailand and Saudi Arabia.

So, to avoid marginalizing new team members or partner firms, keep the Montoya-esque criticism behind closed doors. Come from a place of kindness as one of your goals.

Lastly, in coaching new hires from Malaysia to India to the Netherlands and Vietnam, remind them to never rely solely on language software. Nuances, idioms and phrases may go unnoticed until it is too late and, er, another team member is eating you for lunch (or is that eating your lunch?).

I can hear Inigo Montoya already, “you keep using that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means”.

Ah yes, thank you, Inigo. Thank you. 

Thea Christie

Written By Thea Christie

Thea is an Editor at Advesa and possesses a strange love of grammar, syntax and punctuation. In the past, she’s worked as a content specialist for publications in the startup, SME and tech space. When she’s not storytelling, she’s busy being a travel junkie. @theachristie