5 More Misused Phrases to Look Out for While Proofreading

As a proofreader, you need to be on the lookout for misspelled words and phrases. To help you on this count, we previously looked at five commonly misused phrases. But there are plenty more to look out for! In this post, we’ll take you through five more.

1. Wet Your Appetite (Whet Your Appetite)

The phrase ‘whet your appetite’ is most commonly used when referring to something that stimulates desire, as the word ‘whet’ means ‘sharpen’:

This novel will whet your appetite for surrealist fiction. 

However, we only really use ‘whet’ in relation to sharpening a blade in modern English. Many people therefore confuse it with the more common word ‘wet’:

That starter really wet his appetite.

But while it is clear what ‘sharpening’ one’s desire for something would mean, an ‘appetite’ isn’t the kind of thing you can get wet. As such, ‘wet your appetite’ is always an error.

2. Sneak Peak (Sneak Peek)

To take a ‘sneak peek’ at something means to look at it before you’re meant to:

Lucy took a sneak peek at her birthday presents. 

Some people write this incorrectly as ‘sneak peak’:

He gave us a sneak peak at the new plan.

But ‘peak’ refers to the pointed top of an object (most commonly a mountain or hill). So, unless your client is referring to a sneaky mountain, this should be corrected.

3. Slight of Hand (Sleight of Hand)

The phrase ‘sleight of hand’ refers to the way that some people, especially magicians and other performers, use fine motor skills used to entertain or misdirect:

Sleight of hand is a key skill in close-up magic. 

‘Sleight’ is an unusual word, though, which some people confuse with ‘slight’:

Successful pickpockets use slight of hand.

However, while ‘slight of hand’ could be a poetic way to refer to someone with particularly petite fingers, it is a mistake in this context and you will need to correct it.

4. An Escape Goat (Scapegoat)

The word ‘scapegoat’ comes from the Bible, which mentions a ritual in which a goat was burdened with the sins of the Hebrews and sent into the wilderness, taking the sins with it.

Etymologically, then, a ‘scapegoat’ is literally an ‘escaped goat’, with ‘scape’ an old-fashioned shortening of ‘escape’. But these days the term refers to someone who is wrongly blamed for the faults of others, and should always be written as a single word:

He became a scapegoat for the manager’s mistakes. 

I don’t want to be an escape goat for you!

The one exception is if your client is literally referring to a goat on the loose. But we tend to find that situation arises less these days than it did in Biblical times.

5. Lack Toast and Tolerant (Lactose Intolerant)

Finally, to be ‘lactose intolerant’ is to lack the ability to digest a sugar found in dairy:

The doctor informed her that she was lactose intolerant

‘Lack toast and tolerant’ and ‘lack toast intolerant’, however, are merely comical variations of this term that result from someone mishearing it:

I can’t eat ice cream because I’m lack toast and tolerant.

Hopefully, you won’t come across misused phrases like this often as a proofreader. If you do, though, try to be polite and patient in any comments you leave! It’s fine to have a private giggle at errors like this one, but don’t let it affect your professionalism.

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We cover more common errors and misused phrases that you might encounter as an editor in our Becoming A Proofreader course. Sign up to the free trial to find out more!

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