Skip to main content

Pet Peeves

I assume anyone taking time to read this blog has some sort of vested interest in language. We write, teach, or edit. For that reason, I also assume we each probably have our personal grammatical pet peeves. You know what I mean, those words or phrases that, when used incorrectly, run chills up your spine. We get our peeves from different places. Some of our peeves we inherit. My mother was always annoyed when anyone used the word ‘podium’ when they meant ‘lectern.’ She always said, “One stands on a podium, one stands behind a lectern.” So, of course, I don’t care that Merriam Webster and Random House dictionaries both say the words are interchangeable. In memory of my mother, I still roll my eyes me when people use ‘podium’ for anything other than the raised stage on which a speaker stands.

Some of our linguistic pet peeves were instilled in us by teachers. ‘Can vs. may’ is traditionally a favorite of first and second grade teachers and often sticks with kids into adulthood. And some of our pet peeves just develop as we expand our vocabularies. Some of you may have have had that boss who used the phrase ‘mute point’ when he meant ‘moot point’ and so that has been added to your list of annoyances.

I try not to be too obnoxious about my pet peeves. I seldom correct anyone when they say ‘the person that’ rather than ‘the person who.’ I would just annoy the person rather than educate them. However, many of you are in positions where your linguistic authority is requested and respected. I encourage you, use your power for the good of the world! Please use your editing skills to keep people from saying the flag was at ‘half mast’ when what they mean is ‘half staff.’ Please never let the word ‘irregarless’ pass by your red pencil. And most of all, please don’t let the word ‘literally’ come to mean anything other than actually or exactly. I will literally die if you do!

What are some of your pet peeves? I need to know so I don’t use them in future posts.

Jo Klemm has worked as a librarian since 1985, with the exception of the eight years she raised her three girls. She has worked in public, medical school, university, and community college libraries and is currently working at Tarrant County College in Arlington, Texas as a Public Services Librarian and doing coursework on a doctorate. In her spare time, she is a professional storyteller, focusing on western and Texas stories and Arthurian legends. The written and spoken word has always fascinated her and, though she embraces technology, she worries that it is moving us away from appreciation of the power of the written word. In her teaching, storytelling, and writing, she tries to inspire and empower students to learn from great authors, old and new, and to find their own voice on the page.


  1. Quotes? Single instead of double? ;) Also, when we share meaningful quotations - not quotes - with each other...

    And the dreaded ellipsis. More than three sets in a book and I slide into hate-mode.

    And too many sentences starting with "and".

    I'm on a roll here...


  2. I think the worst is when people use "anyways" instead of "anyway." Makes me want to scream!
    Another is "should of" instead of "should have."
    AAAAH! I hate hate HATE that one!
    I could go on and on and on and on...
    Put it on Paper

  3. I hate it when people say "Did you do good?" When they really mean "Did you do well?" Please, it's just one word, get it right.

  4. Borrowed me instead of lent me -

    Morgan Mandel

  5. Jessica - I'm with you all the way. Jo - The misuse of the word literally, well it literally makes me cringe. Yes I also loathe that annoying speech pattern of rising intonation at the end of a sentence or phrase, causing it to sound like a question or general uncertainty. Don't get me started on 'awesome' and 'absolutely.' Am I just a crabby old bat? Please help me.
    Madame Perrys Salon
    Memoirs Of A Misanthrope

  6. I agree with all your pet peeves except half-mast. We use it that way on TV too. I'm from British English background.

    My Darcy Mutates…

  7. In honor of my dad, I will tell you that growing up, he trained us to chuckle at: "irregardless of the true facts."

  8. My worst is "then" for "than". "Zack is stronger then Sid." Then what? Grr! Ack! Sorry - I have to go to my happy place now.

  9. Use of 'if' where 'whether' is correct.

    Use of 'should' where 'ought' is correct.

    Use of 'which' where 'that' is correct. (I will fight with bare blade anyone who says otherwise. Yeah, I'm lookin' at you, Geoffrey Pullum.)

  10. Lately, I'm being driven crazy by the overuse of "actually." I hear it everywhere, especially on TV.

  11. "His hands roamed over her body."
    How? Did they disembody from him and go on a female tour?

  12. From a military point of view, half staff refers to a flag on a flagpole as on an Army post,half mast refers to a flag on a ship's mast.

  13. When I was a youngster, I had the annoying (to my mother) habit of ending sentences with prepositions (particularly "at"). I would say, "Where's it at?" Did she tell me? Not exactly. After all these years, I can still hear her saying, "Just before the at." Today it's allowable to end sentences with prepositions. Still, every time I hear or read a sentence structured like that, I'm reminded of her. It was her annoyance, not mine, but it affected me.

    Speaking of "affected," the misuse of affect and effect bothers me. So does the use of the wrong homonym. I know it's often just a typo, but writers need to proof their work before they send it to an editor. Learn the difference between do, dew, and due; flew, flu, and flue; carat, caret, and carrot; idol, idle, and idyl; rain, rein, and reign; to, too, and two; etc., etc., etc.

    Okay, time to be quiet before I really get into this.

  14. I can't stand when people say they "could care less" when they should say they "COULDN'T care less." Ugh!

    Overuse of the word "basically" is another biggie, and don't get me started on all those abominable exclamation points!!!! Does anyone really need that much emphasis ever????

  15. Such a provocative post!

    1. All of these "hates" create great dialogue voice, by the way. I just read a whole book where one character said "should of" and it represented well his educational level (of course people in real life should consider the way this mistake reveals THEIR educational level).

    2. And Jo, I so appreciate your attempts at restraint when it comes to correcting verbal misuses. My sister is always correcting my "less" to "fewer" and I want to strangle her. I get it on paper, and I figure if we can preserve the written language, we're doing pretty well. Hard to have an imaginative conversation if you're also taking the time to self-edit.

    3. But this interrelationship between the written and the verbal brings me to my pet peeve: consistent mispronunciation. People would spell better if they knew how to pronounce words like "nucular" and "jewlery"—and it doesn't help when our former president and radio ads, respectively, keep putting these mispronunciations out there.

  16. My biggest pet peeve has already been mentioned by L.C. Gant. I could care less. Geez, if you could care less, that means you do care some. Grrr....

  17. Lots of my grumbles have been mentioned here.

    Although I try to follow the rules of grammar, usage, and spelling, I thank the heavens for good copy editors. Sometimes it's a matter of house style, like my most recent manuscript, where my copy editor reinserted all the commas before "too" that my agent and first-round editor didn't want.

    And, Dani -- I'm sure my writing would knot your knickers. I love ellipses (and my editors don't remove them--maybe because I write in deep POV, and they're a logical way to show drifting thought processes). And I start lots of sentences with 'and' :-)

    My current pet peeve -- It's not BAITED breath unless you've been eating worms.

    Terry's Place
    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

  18. Love the word "peeves".

    I think my biggest peeve is mixing up "lay" and "lie". I remember the first time I heard someone say "Have a lay down" instead of "lie down": it was at after-school care and I think I was ten. My brain just about exploded knowing that an adult (almost a teacher) had said something grammatically incorrect.

    Word 4 Writers on HearWriteNow
    Blood-Red Pencil

  19. I have to agree with Jessica. I hear educated people say "anyways" all the time. It makes me cringe. I have even seen people use "anyways" in business writing. When I've tried correcting people, they tell me I'm wrong. I always direct them to the dictionary, but they still usually insist that the word is "anyways."

  20. I hate to go against the common wisdom on a blog I've just discovered, but... having recently finished Jack Lynch's "The Lexicographer's Dilemma: the Evolution of 'Proper' English from Shakespeare to South Park" I've become even more skeptical of the wisdom of 'proper' English. Many of the rules we now have were invented by self appointed experts who wanted either (a) the middle class to speak and write like the upper class or (b) impose grammatical forms of Greek or Latin.

    Language is dynamic - it's not like the laws of physics or some ancient creed etched in stone. Whatever works I say. The biggest fear I have is that we will lose this free flowing character of our language, and end up with universal grammar dictated by the spell and grammar checks on Microsoft Word.

    Bring on the evolution I say.

    And please forgive me Dani for the 'dreaded ellipsis' and any other grammatical flaws that found their way into my comment.

  21. I agree with Kathryn - that all these issues make for wonderful dialog. (Some of them say a lot about how the speaker thinks.)

    My pet peeve of the moment is when people use quote marks as a form of emphasis. They don't seem to realize that it draws into question the accuracy of the word, and thus has the opposite effect.

  22. Thanks for all your comments, guys. The reason I participate in this blog is to improve my writing and speaking and it is great to see your comments. Thanks!

  23. Jennifer - "Yes I also loathe that annoying speech pattern of rising intonation at the end of a sentence or phrase, causing it to sound like a question or general uncertainty."

    Well, you'd hate coming to Australia then. We of the rising intonation... :D


Post a Comment

The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. If a glitch is preventing you from commenting, visit our Facebook page and drop your wise words there: Blood-Red Pencil on Facebook