Can You Complete These Commonly Misued Phrases?



By: Maria Trimarchi

6 Min Quiz

Image: Paul Bradbury/ OJO Images/gettyimages

About This Quiz

Are you a master of English? Can you cut the mustard and pass muster? Or should you cut muster and pass the mustard? If you have the confidence and skill to separate these common phrasing mistakes and deliberate puns from the correct English phrases you should use in public, then take this quiz.

Are you a font of knowledge, like Times New Roman, or are you a fount of knowledge, like the Trevi Fountain in Rome? Take this quiz, then everyone will know which one you are.

Some of us have a deep-seeded fear of public speaking, due to the worry that we might misspeak. Or is that a deep-seated fear? Is it a shoo-in that you will make a mistake, or a shoe-in, like putting your foot in your mouth? And is that related to hoof-and-mouth disease? Who's to say, or whose is it to say?

For all intensive purposes, or for all intents and purposes, this quiz might wet or whet your appetite for finding fault with the phrasing of others. Don't home in or hone in on the mistakes of others, though, because that's just rude.

Instead, take this quiz for the piece or peace of mind that comes with knowing you truly are a master of English.

Tina Turner, after living as an _____ in Switzerland for more than 20 years, became a Swiss citizen.

An ex-patriot would be a person who used to be a patriot but no longer is. A person who lives outside of his or her native country is called an "expatriate," or "expat" for short.


There's no evidence that you'll get sick if you go out in the cold with wet hair - that's just an _____.

Old wives' tales are superstitions. They're commonly believed to be true, and some of them are, but most aren't based on any actual scientific evidence.


She didn't expect her knowledge of the _____ would help her save a choking man during dinner.

The Heimlich maneuver, invented by and named after Dr. Henry Heimlich in the 1970s, is an emergency procedure performed to dislodge an object, such as a piece of food, that's obstructing a person's windpipe. The technique is done with a combination of a bear hug and abdominal thrusts.


It's a _____ world out there - you'd be smart to look out for yourself.

A "dog-eat-dog" world is one that's ruthlessly competitive. It's used to describe an environment where some people feel they need to lie, cheat and steal in the name of looking out for their own self-interest.


He was charged with _____ when the officer clocked him driving in excess of 30 mph over the posted speed limit.

Laws vary from state to state, but reckless driving can include excessive speeding, texting behind the wheel or illegal passing, among other punishable offenses - resulting in jail time, probation, license suspension and/or high fines. "Wreckless" driving, a common misspelling, is just that -- a misspelling.


_____, this conversation is over.

Meaning, "for all practical purposes," "for all intents and purposes" is frequently and incorrectly confused with "for all intensive purposes." The phrase, "to all intents, constructions and purposes," from which the expression is derived, dates back to the 16th century, in particular 16th-century English law.


Because of their carbohydrates, potatoes get a _____, but they can be healthy for you.

While a "bad wrap" might be used to describe gift wrap gone wrong or an unsavory sandwich, a "bad rap" comes from the 14th century, and meaning to strike or blow. If you have a "bad rap," you have a bad reputation as a result of false or unjustified charges.


She wore an itsy bitsy teenie weenie yellow _____ bikini.

In 1857, a women's lifestyle magazine called Godey's Lady's Book described a scarf as, "muslin, for light summer wear, surrounded by a scalloped edge, embroidered in rows of round polka dots" -- the first known use of the phrase "polka dot." In 1928, Walk Disney introduced Mickey's steady girl, Minnie Mouse, in a red polka-dot dress and matching bow. Today they're often still seen on fabric and clothing, as well as furniture, toys and more.


The _____ continued to address the large crowd of protesters, even as tear gas was dispensed.

Agitator, instigator or revolutionary, a "rabble rouser" is a person who intentionally stirs up the crowd (the "rabble"), usually for political reasons.


It's been said that because of how impactful it's been, the invention of the Internet is the _____.

Before the 1920s, this saying wouldn't make much sense - the first effective bread-slicing machine wasn't put to use until 1928, by the Chillicothe Baking Company in Missouri. The now-common phrase, "the best thing since sliced bread," has one variation - sometimes it's heard as "the greatest thing since sliced bread."


The mayor made a _____ to the award winner.

When you make a "courtesy call," you pay a visit - on the phone, in person or otherwise - only because it's the polite thing to do. Some offices, like your doctor's office, may make courtesy calls to remind patients of upcoming appointments, too.


Just six weeks into their _____, they decided to elope.

A "whirlwind romance" may make you feel like the world is spinning, but really what it means is that the relationship you're in has been passionate and moving fast - sometimes out of control.


When we opened the first restaurant, it was _____.

It means that you only have a small chance of succeeding, and "on a wing and a prayer" likely originated among RAF pilots in World War II.


Whether the chicken or the egg came first is a _____.

A "moot point" is one that's open to discussion, has no practical value, or is hypothetical. The term comes from British law.


The accused New York mobster was _____ for more than two decades before being found by the FBI.

When you're "on the lam," you're fleeing, and trying to avoid law enforcement. Originally, back in the late 1800s, it mean "to run off."


A human thumb is called ____.

Opposable thumbs, thumbs that can be placed opposite the fingers of the same hand, are a characteristic of primates. That's right, they're not unique to humans. Other animals, including gorillas, possums, and even certain frogs have them. They allow us to grab and manipulate objects.


To quote author Kurt Vonnegut, "I am _____for my knack of finding in great books, some of them very funny books, reason enough to feel honored to be alive, no matter what else might be going on."

If you're "eternally grateful" for something, you're emphasizing how much you appreciate a kindness, and that you'll be thankful for a long time.


To be at a person's _____ means you're available on a moment's notice.

Although it originated from being at a person's "beck" or "beckon" - that a servant could be beckoned at any time, the correct expression today is "beck and call."


Be careful; he's no stranger to telling _____.

The original expression, coined near the end of the 17th century, was actually "barefaced lie," but during the 17th century, "bare" meant "bold." Today, the expression is "bald-faced lie" and means to show no guilt in bad behavior.


The dog, _____, sat at the foot of the tree waiting for the squirrel.

When you're "biding your time," you're waiting - patiently - for your opportunity or a further development. For instance, you might intern while you're biding your time waiting for a permanent position. Or you might be a dog, waiting for a squirrel who left the tree hours ago.


With two small children at home, she found law school to be a _____.

While many of us aren't farmers with "rows to hoe," a "tough row to hoe" describes a universal challenge: you're faced with a large, difficult task.


Don't expect too much, he said, telling the audience to _____.

Curbing one's enthusiasm means that you're holding back or lowering your expectations, tempering your excitement or other feelings.


Walking out now will only makes things more difficult in the long run. Don't _____.

To "cut off your nose to spite your face" means, essentially, that you're over-reaction to the situation will end up hurting you more than anything else.


_____, with that game, the team wrapped up a fantastic season.

On the whole. All things considered. All in all. They're all basically the same thing - meaning, "with everything taken into account." The expression comes from the Bible, 1 Corinthians 15:28: that God maye be all in all.


A good magician should have good _____.

Impressively quick "sleight of hand" is the secret to pulling off many magic tricks, especially card magic. "Sleight" means to use your cunning, craftiness, and dexterity - usually to deceive.


Some people say that we're voting for the _____ in the election.

If you have to choose between what you consider to be two bad choices, the one you think is less objectionable is the "lesser of two evils." It dates back to the ancient Greeks, and has been found in English as long ago as the 14th century.


_____ to tell you what to do, but I think you should go on the blind date.

The phrase has been around for centuries, and can be found several times in the Bible -- including 1 Samuel 12:23, "as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you." "Far be it from me" is used to express criticism by saying you don't want to criticize.


When you feel anxious, angry or stressed, you may notice you've _____ your brow.

The phrase, indicating a worried or puzzled facial expression, is to "furrow your brow." "Furl," which is commonly misused in this phrase, describes rolling up a sail or flag - it's typically a nautical term and not anything to do with the human anatomy.


When the stock market crashed, many fortunes - and 401ks - were wiped out in _____.

This phrase can be traced back to Shakespeare and his play, "Macbeth," when the character MacDuff learns his family has been killed - felled - in one swoop, meaning a sudden attack. Although no one is sure if he coined it or just popularized it, it's at least hundreds of years old.


After the divorce, she legally took back her _____.

If a woman legally changes to her partner's surname when they marry, her former surname - that's her parents' last name - is then known as her "maiden name." Some women now join both surnames with a hyphen.


Our relationship ended soon after I realized she was _____.

If you're a geologist you might take something for granite, but the expression for the rest of us is that we've taken someone or something for granted - which means we've failed to appreciate or pay enough attention to them (on purpose or not).


He's the best quarterback to ____ in years.

The noun "pike" in this expression is short for turnpike, an expressway or toll road. If something "comes down the pike," it's something new - an idea, person or something else - that's arrived.


Even though he couldn't clean the plate, he was _____ to leave with leftovers.

Popularized in the early 19th century, "happy as a clam" may seem a bit of a strange expression - after all, how does one know when a clam is happy or sad? The actual full phrase, though, is, "(as) happy as a clam (at high tide)" - which does make sense when you realize that clam digging only happens during low tide.


If you're speaking in _____, you're explaining a complex topic in a way that the average person can understand.

When you explain a complex idea in such a way anyone, especially someone who isn't an expert, can understand, it's known as putting it "in layman's terms."


The literary professor was a _____ on the subject of art and books in the middle ages.

A "fount of knowledge" is actually a shortened version of "fountain of knowledge" - and it's a saying that dates back as far as the 16th century. You could also be a "fount" of wisdom, ideas, advice and so on.


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