February 11, 2018 by Petrea
Writing Wrongs: When Should I Look it Up?
Photo by Samuel Scrimshaw on Unsplash
I have a feeling that whoever wrote this headline (or whomever, we’ll get to that one of these days) doesn’t know the meaning of the phrase, “in lieu of.”
It’s possible the writer meant “in light of,” or “following,” or “in response to.” But “in lieu of,” a phrase we’ve borrowed from French, means “in place of.” Un lieu is a place. I don’t think Ms. Haley was speaking to Iran in place of protests. I think those protests happened, and nothing happened in place of them.
But it sounds kind of believable if you don’t know the word, or if you aren’t sure. And since most of us don’t have time to look up every little thing, our brains give this misused phrase a meaning that makes sense to us, we skip over it, and move on. The next time we see the phrase we recognize it, think we know what it means, and a language error is established.
What if the word sounds right, and it’s just spelled wrong?
“Course” is the word this author wanted. Course, a noun, is the route you follow, like the course of a river, or in this case, the course of Cowboys history. “Course” can also be a verb (blood courses through our veins). Coarse is a word, too, but it’s neither noun nor verb. It’s an adjective, a word that describes. It means rough or crude. “His clothes were as coarse as his speech.”
In both of these cases (in lieu, and course vs. coarse), things sort of sound right. I know they’re incorrect, and you know they’re incorrect, but how do you know when you don’t know? What tells you, “Hm, I should look this one up juuuust to be sure”? And when does it matter?