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Monday

50 Mistreated Words and Desecrated Phrases: Wet Your Appetite



I hate to throw a wet blanket on a popular expression, but this one is misused far too often. It really isn’t possible to wet one’s appetite. That phrase simply doesn’t hold water.


The word “whet” actually means “to sharpen.” Think of sharpening a knife, using a whetstone. When you whet your appetite, you are sharpening it, in a sense. Your appetite becomes more pronounced, making your desire to eat more obvious.

Sure, when you want to whet your appetite, it may help to wet your whistle first. But that is another matter altogether.

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Tuesday

50 Mistreated Words and Desecrated Phrases: Vice-a-versa




Misuse of this phrase seems almost universal. How many times have you read this as “vice-a-versa”?

The actual phrase, “vice versa,” is derived from Latin. “Vix” means position or location. “Versa” means “to turn.

Vice versa points to the polar opposite of something. Most often, it pertains to the order of two things. Used properly, a technology writer might say, “All programs must be closed before switching off the device, not vice versa.” A food columnist might write, “Spread the peanut butter on one slice of bread, followed by the jam on the second slice, or vice versa.”

All things in good order.

“Vice versa” often pertains to two things that are interchangeable – or most decidedly not.

To sum up, those who are well versed will use the phrase correctly and say something is vice versa. Otherwise, they might have to face off with the grammar and language usage vice squad.

Hey, it could be verse. Some folks even say, “vicey-versa.” That’s just plain dicey and not at all nicey.

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Friday

50 Mistreated Words and Desecrated Phrases: Travesty



“It’s a travesty.” Is it really?

When something truly terrible happens, it’s probably not a travesty. The word “travesty” is often misused, when the right word might be “tragedy.”

What is a travesty? 


Properly defined, this word points to a distortion, falsehood, or absurdity.  A travesty may even be a mockery or perversion of something real. A caricature, burlesque, farce, or sham might be called a travesty.

A simply horrible actual turn of events would likely not be. One might say it would be a travesty to paint a tragedy thusly.


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Tuesday

50 Mistreated Words and Desecrated Phrases: Tow the Line



Hey, where are you going with that line? All kidding aside, it’s not really possible to tow the line – at least, not in the way most folks use this phrase.

Maybe it’s time to toe the line and set the record straight. This expression points to obeying the rules, observing propriety, or doing something with absolute correctness. It’s all about standing right on the line, as if at full attention in a military lineup.


Towing the line might be OK, if one were talking about boating. It could also be used to talk about a tug-of-war contest.

But usually, this phrase is misused when folks really mean toeing the line.

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