Throwback Thursday- Writing 101: We’re still not using the right damned words…

I had to go back and find this post after I had a student note in a report that something “cone sided” with something else. Immediately, the j-nerds were off and running with their “all intensive purposes,” “youth in Asia,” “acid tape” and more.

With that in mind, here’s a look back at using the right damned words again…

Writing 101: We’re still not using the right damned words…

Journalism is about using the right word in the right way all of the time, a task we fail at far too often as we saw with last week’s “Throwback Thursday” post on using the right damned word. When this post first ran, some editors chimed in with a few of their favorite errors, but not much else happened.

This time, the post hit the academic circuit, where instructors of all kinds found themselves sharing the “greatest hits album” of errors as well, proving once again that it’s not just journalism where wordplay can turn ugly.

(One reader chastised me, noting that “learning disabilities make it hard for some people to recognize their errors,” and that I should think twice about posting such a list. I have taught hundreds of students with diagnosed and undiagnosed learning disabilities over my decades in higher ed. I’ve also worked closely with the various offices that serve these students so I could assist my pupils and recognize signs that students may need this kind of assistance. I can assure you that I would never make fun of a student, or the student’s work, in such a case. I can also assure you that what we’re talking about here sure as hell ain’t that.)

So, with that out of the way and with all of this in mind, here’s an expanded list of word failures educators seem to be seeing more of these days:


ethnic: Related to large groups of people classed according to common racial, national, tribal, religious, linguistic or cultural origin or background. “Leaders of ethnic communities met Thursday to discuss bias complaints against community police officers.”

ethic: A set of moral principles, especially ones relating to or affirming a specified group, field, or form of conduct. “People admired Stan for his strong work ethic.”


barely: By a small amount; almost not. “After that final exam, I barely passed statistics.”

barley: A hardy cereal plant that is used in various cooked dishes. “Ethel added barley to her beef soup to make it thicker and more delicious.”


(Speaking of cereal, the “c” version of this is meant to denote certain grains used in food or breakfast foods made, in part, from those grains. The “s” version, as in “serial,” means in an order or a pattern, like the sequential numbers on money or the specific way certain people kill. Thus, if you hear read the phrase “cereal killer,” it’s time to watch out for that damned leprechaun on your Lucky Charms box.)


insight: The ability to understand or comprehend something at a higher level than others can. “Because she studied royal protocol for years, YaVonda had a keen insight as to how to behave when she met the queen.”

incite: An attempt to get others to act in a violent or lawless fashion. “If Bobby goes down to that peaceful protest, he will incite the crowd to riot.”


Spainders: Not a damned word.

Spaniards: People from Spain.

Spaniels: A dog breed with long silky hair.


Coulda/Woulda/Shoulda: What your mother tells you after you screwed up.

Could of/Would of/Should of: Not damned word couplings.

Could have/Would have/Should have: What you could have, would have or should have written in your paper instead of the previous two sets of words.


highschool: Not a damned word, unless there’s a drug euphemism I can’t locate online. “Jimmy had trouble rolling a joint, but after Susie took him to highschool, he was a master of the Zig Zags.”

high school: Where kids in the U.S. go from ages 14-18 (or more) to learn stuff. “If I had paid attention in high school, I probably wouldn’t be making all these word-choice errors.”


trial: A court hearing in which people are found to be guilty or not guilty on charges brought against them. “Liam was found not guilty after his recent murder trial.”

trail: A path or roadway you hike on. “The cowboys agreed that after the cattle drive, they’d meet at the end of the Chisholm trail to camp for the night.”


manor: A place people live. “Batman’s Batcave was hidden under the stately Wayne Manor.”

manner: A way of being. “Jim’s off-putting manner made the women in his office feel awkward when they were near him.”


saleing: Despite what your marketing professor is trying to make happen, it’s not a damned word:

selling: What people are actually doing when other people are actively buying stuff the marketing people are promoting. “These Melon Patch Dolls are selling like hot cakes this holiday season!”

sailing: A boating activity that takes me away to where I’ve always heard it could be… Just a dream and the wind to carry me…


Weeknd: Something that used to not be a damned word until Abel Makkonen Tesfaye came along and created some truly bangin’ music.

weekend: The time at the end of the week, in which some people who aren’t teachers or professors, get to relax and enjoy themselves. “I can’t wait for the weekend to get here so I can sleep late.”

weakened: Something that has deteriorated in some way from its previous position of strength. “Luis is worried about COVID-19 because he has a weakened immune system.”

(Side note: If anyone tells you they have a “weekend immune system,” they either a) have word-choice issues, b) need to spend Monday through Friday in a plastic bubble or c) are making some reference about their partying prowess like, “Don’t worry, bro… I can handle as much tequila as you can sling my way due to my weekend immune system!”)


thrown: Tossed, pitched or otherwise hurled. “The ball was thrown to the plate, but the runner was safe at home.”

throne: The thing kings and queens get to sit on. “The throne in Buckingham Palace is not as ornate as I would have imagined it to be.”

(Side note: “Game of Thrones” would be a lot different if it were “Game of Throwns.”)


customer: Person buying something. “The customer is always right, even if they’re being a total knob about it…”

costumer: A person or company that makes fanciful outfits for actors and actresses. “Janine spent five years on Broadway as a costumer for a prominent theater group.”


porpoise: An aquatic mammal that looks like a dolphin but is actually a small-toothed member of the whale family. “I wanted to go to Sea World so I could look at a porpoise.”

purpose: A reason for being. “I believe my purpose in life is to embarrass my kid in front of any boy, girl or creature she chooses to date.”


peak: The top level of an occurrence, or the highest elevation of a mountain. “Lamont ate four sandwiches before the race, so there’s no way he’ll reach peak performance.” OR “Alaina climbed to the peak of Mount Everest.”

peek: A quick glimpse of something. “I just needed to take a peek inside my kid’s room to realize the place was a disaster area.”

pique: Heighten or stimulate. “The package that came for her roommate served to pique Marlena’s curiosity.”


bizarre: Weird, strange, unexpected, abnormal. “When the superintendent jumped on the table and began to cluck like a chicken, the school board meeting took a bizarre turn.”

bazaar: A place in which goods are sold or traded, traditionally linked to Middle Eastern cultures. “To make money for his family, Abdul sold trinkets to tourists at the bazaar.”


ballot: A thing you use to cast a vote. “On her ballot, Maria selected ‘None of the Above’ for mayor.”

ballad: A slow, folksy song of a narrative nature. “Johnny Cash sang ‘The Ballad of Ira Hayes,’ on his ‘Bitter Tears’ album.”


Flamingo: A tall wading bird that is often pink. “I saw a flamingo while vacationing in Florida.”

Flamenco: A form of song and dance traditionally associated with cultures in southern Spain. “There are more than 50 types of Flamenco that experts have distinguished within the art form.”

Although I would like to say that there is no such thing as a “flamingo dance,”  it turns out that in one instance, it is the case. Enjoy:

One thought on “Throwback Thursday- Writing 101: We’re still not using the right damned words…

  1. Jon Bekken says:

    Trail is distressingly common, and not only in student work. The Guardian several weeks ago ran an article about how a Hong Kong dissident was sent to jail following a trail. It was hard to make sense of the article (my practice is to assume words are deliberately chosen), but it seems he was riding a bike on the trail waving a pro-democracy flag. Presumably the authorities objected to this because they prefer people to leave the beaten path, marching through the countryside and hanging out and agitating in caves.

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