Word jumble: Common phrases that need some editing

Welcome to post number eleventy-billion and then some on phrases that are commonly misused and/or misunderstood. Why am I adding my two cents that probably duplicates work put out there by others? Because I still see it happen all the time and anything that helps people write (and speak) more accurately and with clarity seems like a good idea.

Let me start by saying that I don't judge people's intelligence based on whether they write or say these things. They know what they mean, the people around them (I think) know what they mean, so no harm, no foul. I also get that it's easy to misunderstand the exact words someone says, not having seen it written down. It's the opposite of people mispronouncing words they've only ever read in books. But I'm a fan of lifelong learning and I think it's a worthy goal to know better and do better, even in small things. So, this is for anyone who feels the same.

Now that my cliché-ridden intro is out of the way, I'll share some of the phrases I've been seeing used recently that need some editing.

To "flush" or to "flesh" it out

Whenever I hear or see the phrase "flush it out," I think of work being flushed down the toilet. To me, that's what it means. Except it's usually describing the process of building something out, adding substance - like a skeleton idea that needs skin (flesh) to be fully formed. I have lots of ideas, but I rarely flush them without first making some attempt to flesh them out.

I "couldn't" care less...or "could" I?

Whether it's a disdainful dismissal or amicable carte blanche to take over, saying you "couldn't care less" means you can't be bothered to give the topic du jour any mental or emotional space. However, to say you "could care less" means you actually do care. While most people use the phrase to express how little they care (i.e., not at all), the words say the opposite. But do you care enough about this distinction to add on that second syllable next time? 

Happy belated birthday!

You know what never comes late? Your birthday. Every single year, it comes on the exact same day (unless you're a February 29 baby). You know what does come late? Birthday wishes. Dictonary.com's definition of "belated" is "late, delayed or detained." So, when we say "Happy belated birthday," we're actually saying "Happy late, delayed or detained birthday." And that's kinda funny when you think about it. As my father drilled into my head for many years, the correct way to say it is, "A belated happy birthday to you." Because the "happy birthday" is late, not the birthday. But that sounds super formal and I get why people don't like to say it. So, I skip using "belated" at all and just say, "I know I'm late, but happy birthday!" 

Woulda, coulda, shoulda used "have"

To me, this one has to be rooted in our tendency to use contractions in the spoken word, but I didn't bother to research the theory so don't quote me on it. "Could've" actually sounds like "could of," even though it's actually "could have." Using "of" after any of these words is a grammatical error, but I can see why it happens. Bonus tip: It's also never "wouldn't of," "couldn't of," or "shouldn't of." Those pesky spoken double contractions: wouldn't've, couldn't've, shouldn't've.

"Rather than" end things too soon

I thought I'd squeeze one more in. I believe it's yet another example of misheard, then miswrote. When comparing two things, someone might indicate they prefer X rather "then" Y. Unfortunately, "then" is always wrong in this context. Put simply, "then" is used as an adverb, adjective or noun when talking about order or time. "Than" is used as a conjunction or preposition associated with comparisons and the phrase "X rather than Y" happens to be a comparative clause.

"We're none of us perfect."

I like Miley Cyrus' mentality of enjoying life without the pressure of perfection and it brought my husband's oft-quoted Homerism to mind. Matt loves quoting The Simpsons and this quote happens to be a favorite when he makes a mistake.

We all say or write things that aren't quite right, but if you learn something you say is incorrect and attempt to internalize the correction, it's just going to help you be a better communicator when it's your turn to share ideas and information with others in your world.

Now it's your turn: What have you heard lately that you can add to the list?