Month: May 2018

Are you using these words correctly?

As a self-confessed pedant and nitpicker, there’s nothing that grates more than hearing someone utter a well-known word or phrase incorrectly.

Here are three that spring to mind.

‘I scratched my arm’ or ‘I itched my arm’?

‘I scratched my arm’ is correct.

For some reason I hear a lot of people say ‘I itched my arm’, meaning they remedied a tickle by ‘itching’ it, when they really mean ‘scratching’. An ‘itch’ is what you have in the first place; you can’t ‘itch’ something.

You can use the verb form in lots of different ways, such as ‘my arm itched’, ‘my underwear is itching’, or even just ‘I itch’. You can also use it in the metaphorical sense of longing: ‘I was itching to go to Disneyland’.

As a noun, ‘itch’ can refer to the site of irritation: ‘I have an itch on my leg’.

The verb examples I gave above show ‘itch’ used as an intransitive verb, meaning it doesn’t have to be directed at an object. It can be used transitively, though this is more rare: ‘This carpet itches my feet’.

An object can itch something, but a person cannot.

ItchyandScratchy

‘Bought’ or ‘brought’?

‘I bought some curry powder at the shop.’ – correct.

‘I brought some curry powder at the shop.’ – most certainly, undeniably, definitely not correct.

‘Brought’ comes from the verb ‘to bring’, which means to take something somewhere, as in ‘I brought my dog along to the park’. ‘Bought’ is the past tense of ‘to buy’, meaning you purchased something with money.

Most people know the meaning and distinction of these words, yet it’s another common switch. Someone will often tell me they ‘brought a lovely new dress in Debenhams’, or ‘brought six doughnuts from Tesco’ (at which point I impatiently wait for them to be produced, only to realise their mistake).

I’m not sure why this one started, aside from the similarities between the two words, but it’s become really common.

H: ‘aitch’ or ‘haitch’?

‘Aitch’ is correct.

When spelling out a word or warbling the alphabet, many Brits are quick to pronounce the letter ‘H’ as ‘haitch’. There are two reasons for this – the first is that because it makes a ‘hhhh’ sound, there is a misconception that it should be pronounced as such. The second probably comes from years of being scolded for dropping our aitches by parents or at school – so much so that we instinctively add one where it’s not needed. Language discipline coming back to bite me on the arse.

It’s perhaps made more problematic by the fact that we rarely see it written down; people rely on hearing it in conversation and therefore it’s easier to reproduce incorrectly (particularly if the person saying it gets it wrong).

It’s such a common mistake that in some dictionaries and language teachings it’s cited as a ‘variant’ (I strongly disagree with this so I’m not going to give them credit).

Summary

It’s funny how errors can spread among the population, like a contagion, until they become very commonplace. I have no doubt that the examples above could very well end up in dictionaries as ‘alternative’ uses, or ‘informal’ ones. I think that’s a shame – it’s like instead of teaching people the correct way to use words we just let mistakes slide into acceptance.

Note

Aside from some basic fact checking, I intentionally didn’t look up any sources for this post, because I want to write it uninfluenced. I might start marking these ‘pure posts’.