Language Pet Peeves


Reblogged partly from my very first post, because you never saw it.


There are a few phrases that people are constantly using that are just plain wrong, and that may or may not be their fault.  However, what really bugs me is when I try to tell them how to fix it, but they are not interested.  Thanks to a suggestion from an astute reader with an affinity for cats, long johns, and crawtators, I should preface this by including that these “rules” are more about formal writing, such as essays and reporting.  When it comes to fiction, poetry, or blog posts, a little flexibility is needed with punctuation for style and nuance.

1. “It was all downhill (or uphill) from there.”

The reason people get this phrase wrong is because they are mixing up what it is referring to. People are under the false impression that this has to do with a growth chart or line graph, in which a line going “up” is a good thing, and a line going “down” is a bad thing.  However, what it really refers to is something more like riding a bicycle either “uphill” or “downhill.”  On a growth chart, down is bad, but on a bicycle, down is good.  So when we believe that things are progressing smoothly and easily, we are supposed to be saying that “It was all DOWNhill.”  When things are difficult, we should be saying that the conditions were “UPhill.” Please work on that.

2. “I could care less.”

Ouch.  Let’s examine this.  When one uses this phrase, the intent is to express that one does NOT care at all.  Complete lack and/or void of caring is taking place.  However, if one says that one “could care less,” then that means that while you greatly do NOT care, there is still room for care beneath that level of not caring.  In other words, “I don’t care, but it’s possible that I could care even less than I already do.”  What one really should be saying is that one “could NOT care less.”  That means that you have such absolute zero care that it is not possible for you to care any less than your current non-caring level.

3. “Irregardless”

This one I have only heard in Southern New Jersey.  However, keep in mind that at one point South Jersey almost became a separate state from North Jersey.  I can only speak for all of Bergen County and parts of Hudson County when I say we would have been very pleased.

“Regardless” means that you are totally without regard, meaning you are going to progress without being influenced by certain things or conditions.  For example, “regardless of the rain, I walked to the store.”  It means that I ignored the rain and walked anyway.  But when I say “IRregardless,” then I am saying that I was lacking the condition of not regarding or caring.  It’s like a double negative.  The prefix “ir” means not or without.  So, “irregardless of the rain” means that I was without the condition of NOT being influenced by the rain, which means I was influenced by the rain.

4. “People that…

Too many times I hear this from teachers, principals, radio announcers, and just about anyone with a voice.  If I need a pronoun to refer to people, then it must be “who” or “whom.”  The word “that” is used for things or animals.  I constantly hear people say, “I saw a lot of people that were tired.”  No no no.  It should be “people who were tired.”  People are not things or animals.  Well, not all people, so they get the blessing of being a “who” or “whom.”

5.  “Alright.”

Many educated people believe this is a real word, but it is not.  The influence is from the word “already.”  See?  The similarities are kicking sand in your face.  Please don’t use the word “alright.”  It’s “all right.”  Two words.  I didn’t do the underscore thing to show the space between the two words because I’m assuming that you can tell there’s a space there.  Otherwise, it would look like this:  “Allright.”  Again, sand in your face.

The English language is all ready being dumbed down by the minute, so please let’s not push it further into the drain.  I realize at this point the contradiction I’m working with because I’m not using capital letters.  There is a difference.  Really.  See, I am using perfectly good and acceptable words, but by not “capping,” (please, no gangsta retorts) I am simply saving the time and energy of reaching for the shift key.  The point is, regardless of the size of the letters, they’re still the same letters making the same words.

6. “Either side

Please, writers and speakers, stop saying “either side” when it’s not what you really mean to say.  For example, I will read/see/hear something like this:  “There was a statue of a lion on either side of the door at the entrance to the library.”  What they are trying to tell you is that there is a statue of a lion on the left as well as on the right side of the door.  But when you say “either side,” that means “one side or the other,” but not both.  This is an error made by the best writers in the best publications, and nobody (except me) is innocent.  I have never seen this written correctly, unless it was something that I happened to have written.

To correctly say “There was a lion on both sides,” you have two choices:

a. There were statues of lions on both sides of the library door.
b. There was a statue of a lion on each side of the library door.

If you want to use “either side,” then here is how it would be written correctly.  “Jim,” said the boss, “put the box down on either side of the door.”  That would be telling Jim that he can put it on either the right or the left side. obviously not both.

7. “…”  Ellipsis 

Many writers use the ellipsis – the three periods – when there is an interrupted thought or dialogue.  For example, I often see something like this:

“Okay, Jim.  I’ll call you back in about…”  Suddenly, an explosion ripped the car apart.”

The dialogue was interrupted by the explosion, and the speaker was cut off after “about.”  This is wrong because that is not the purpose of the ellipsis.  The purpose of the ellipsis is to indicate that there is something more that was removed in order to either save space or because it was not necessary.  You usually use an ellipsis when you are quoting someone else.  For example:

Real quote – “That movie was the best  movie of the year.”

Shortened quote – “…the best movie of the year.”

The full quote sounds awkward because of the repetition of the word “movie,” but it is a good quote.  If I just start from “The best movie of the year,” then I am not accurately using the quote.  By including the ellipsis, I am alerting the reader that there is something more to the quote, but it is not really important.

If you want to interrupt something, you use a hyphen.

“Okay, Jim.  I’ll call you back in about-”  Suddenly, an explosion ripped the car apart.”

The problem with the hyphen is that it is rather small and not as easy to see as the ellipsis.  That sucks.

Also, some people use the ellipsis as if it were an interruption but it is actually a placeholder for something not said, like a suggestion.  The technical term is a “pregnant pause.”  In that case, the ellipsis would be used correctly.  For example:

Rich:  “Do you think I am an idiot?”

Becca:  “No…”


Do you have any language pet peeves?  Let me know, but I don’t want to hear about how I often don’t capitalize.  That’s a style choice, not an error.

– 30 –

133 thoughts on “Language Pet Peeves

  1. I never heard ‘irreguardless’ until I moved to South Jersey. It’s a confusing word that shouldn’t exist.

    I am totally guilty of using alright, though. I usually think of them as having two meanings. I’ll use all right to say how I’m doing, how something looks, and things like that. I’ll use alright as a substitution for “OK” when either starting a sentence/getting someone’s attention or saying that I’ll do something. So, I basically use it as an interjection. “Alright, students, settle down.” “Alright, I’ll get right on that.” Oh well. Slang, man.

      • Also, I usually don’t use the term, but I thought “It’s all downhill from here” went along with “Over the hill” in referring to someone’s age. I’ve only ever heard it when referring to health/looks. “You might look good now, but it’s all downhill from here.” I guess I was wrong there, too! You learn something new every day!

  2. I don’t know the connection between South Jersey and southern Queensland (Australia) but I’ve heard irregardless there as well. I’m sure I’ve been an ‘either side’ offender – promise to reform forthwith!

      • until i was fortunate enough for you to select me for a guest blog a long time ago, i really had no clue what i was doing here. so the moderate success i have had can be traced directly back to you.

      • Rich,
        This made my night. I think most of us here are looking for threads of success. We want to write, to tell stories, and to be involved in community while becoming closer to the art we cherish. Your strong work and diligence are inspirational to me and I would add that choosing you to guest blog was certainly my pleasure and a happy decision. To your success sir!

      • Well then, this made my morning. And if my threads of success are even half as much as yours, then I will be just fine. Cheers and happy new year.

  3. Hi Rich,
    You hit on some things that drive me crazy too, but you also listed some I hadn’t thought about. My wife hates the expression “under your belt” and also the “break of dawn” because she doesn’t find them to accurately capture what they describe. Thanks for joining in the losing battle to save the language! Ron

  4. What about the ellipses to make a pause in the sentence. One that is more exaggerated than just a comma. To imply sarcasm or whatever. For Example, “What he had to say was… interesting”. Do you use … or -?

  5. I have used and will now make effort not to “people that” and on occassion I have used ‘alright’ …never more !
    I do not mind your constructive critque and appreciate it now that I have gotten to ‘know’ you better through your blog, the first few times I thought to myself ‘what a pompous ass’ now I know that you are only trying to better us and that I appreciate!! feel free to correct me anytime in a nice way of course LOL

  6. Please can this be a new series of posts? 🙂
    My pet peeves – less for fewer, dis- instead of uninterested. I won’t go on.

  7. this school is much more fun then a real one. I don’t use alright, It bugs me when someone does. I am not the best in grammar, far from it, but I can take in a few things, it’s retaining them I find difficult. 😉

  8. The fact that the majority of British people can’t spell or know the grammar of their own language is one of my pet peeves…if foreigners can make the effort to learn English spelling and grammar, why can’t British people?

    • i wish i knew enough about language in britain to make a competent comment, but i can’t. dangit. all i can do is agree and stand behind you on that one. thanks for reading.

  9. I hear “irregardless” used many places. Double negatives are something I dislike as well as the constant use and misuse of “like.” Then there are the misuse of “its” and “it’s”, using the wrong homonym, and one I’ve only seen a few times but is a stinky mistake: saying you have “baited” breath rather than “bated.” That’s all for now. 🙂

  10. I loved this post and I completely agree with you, but had to laugh at the uphill/downhill portion as I used that incorrectly in my post today. I didn’t even stop to think about it; now it will bug me. I cringe when people say, “Where is it at?” ….My mom hated this as well and when we would say it, she would always respond, “behind the at”.

  11. Good stuff Rich – and I hope the ‘either side’ info sticks with me.

    Two tidbits from me … the that/which choice …. I keep it simple with punctuation before which, otherwise it’s that. …. in practice, I try to avoid both of them.

    Because/Since …. Since refers to time, otherwise use because.

  12. This post is why I enjoy your blog! I am a big ellipsis mis-user! I like the look of it instead of using a hypen or the prettier ~ but I know that I am not using…correctly, but I simply can’t help myself!
    Does that drive you crazy? Just wondering!
    So happy you are correcting us all ~ such great lessons! Thanks! 🙂

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  14. I’m a hyphen user, I also love the …. and I have started used a tilda in a general and non-allowable way ~ — but it’s my style so I feel it makes it ‘ok’… I’m a grammar geek but I’m more annoyed with text-type and rebus kinds o’spelling. My favorite gammar book is “The Delux Transitive Vampire” – it makes me happy.

  15. I knew most of that. Have you ever read “Eats, shoots, and leaves” by Lynne Truss? I have a feeling you’d agree with her sentiments (given that they’re pretty much the same as yours in this post).

    There’s a line we say on the anniversary of a departed sister, I can’t remember the full quote, but the bit that irks me says “those God has chosen” and I’m fairly certain it should actually be “those whom God has chosen” and I always have to watch myself because I’d be the only one putting in the “whom” and would therefore end up a word behind everyone else. I have yet to query this with my novice guardian, but I’m sure it’ll happen sooner or later.

    • There is a handy rule for deciding when to use who or whom, but it is difficult to explain without using good examples. Replying through my phone right now so I can’t make them as accurate as they need to be. But that issue will be addressed in part 2.

    • Have not read that book, but I have seen it in stores in heard people discuss it. I am interested to see if there is anything in there that disagrees with what I think or what I have been taught.

  16. Well, Rich, I imagine you are right on all of them. I knew most of them; have even broken some that I know (not often, there, though). The one I have the most problem with is the ellipses and, to tell you the truth, readers out there seem to like it when you are interrupted and use them. They are, perhaps, used to it. I am probably going to continue with those in my fiction. I do agree, though, that formal writing should follow whatever the rules are in the current time.

    • yes, readers have grown accustomed to the ellipsis as an interruption, and that’s attributed to how editors don’t seem to care about fixing it. that’s assuming that an editor even knows what they should be doing. and that’s assuming there even was an editor.

  17. I don’t know if this is just a ‘thing’ in the UK, but people seem to have changed ‘could/would have’ with ‘could/would of’. When I correct them, they just give me a blank stare, sometimes with a little bit of dribble in the corner of their mouths.

  18. I disagree about the ellipses. A dash, specifically an em dash (—), may be used instead of ellipses to indicate a trailing thought. It is not any more or less correct. It is a stylistic choice.

    Spacing on ellipses and em dashes is my pet peeve; ( . . . ) vs. (… ). It is debated by different style manuals so it’s hard to argue which is correct.

    • don’t think i ever saw ellipses with spaces, but i like that better. thanks.

      the dash seems more abrupt, which is why it’s better for an interruption.

  19. Pingback: Language Pet Peeves – 2 « brainsnorts inc >.<

  20. I liked this one the most. I’ve heard ‘irregardless’ quite a bit and often wonder why people don’t just say ‘regardless.’
    I could care less about people that make these kinds of errors and leave things going downhill.

  21. Pingback: Language Pet Peeves – 3 « brainsnorts inc >.<

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  23. It don’t matter.

    I hate hearing that. I cringe. It hurts my ears. Oh and don’t get me started on the whole irregardless thing. Why is it even approved by my spell checker?

    You know what else hurts my ears? “He walked acrossed the street.” Acrossed. As if it’s a verb. It don’t matter when you cross the street, yesterday, last month or even last year it will always be across.

    • it’s usually a nice way to say that you’re about to disagree with what you had just agreed to. a useless filler to work around something. thanks for reading and sharing.

  24. God bless you for this.

    Pet peeve: Less vs. Fewer. One of our local radio station’s taglines is, “More music, less commercials.” Makes me want to drive my car across the median into oncoming traffic.

  25. All very informative info…thank you for sharing in the first place. I have to say though, I love “alright”, I may have to continue it’s use nonetheless. Don’t get mad at me if you happen ever upon my blog and do one day see it there ;0) At the very least, know if was a conscious choice. I just, simply, LOVE alright. Can’t explain it, just do ;0) Thanks very much for your post!

  26. Irregardless is not limited to South Jersey. Even us Philly girls have been known to use it. When corrected I simply tell people I’m an enigma. See if you can figure out the riddle of me. 🙂

  27. Pingback: i before e and Irregardless | DCTdesigns Creative Canvas

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