Writing Wrongs: When Should I Look it Up?

Photo by Samuel Scrimshaw on Unsplash

The World Is Watching You: Nikki Haley to Iran in Lieu of Civilian Protests

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?



  1. F. Lagnab - February 11, 2018 @ 00:55

    I knew I should’n’a worn this fribbin’ sweater …

    • Petrea - February 11, 2018 @ 08:19

      No, you look good in it…

  2. Lowell - February 11, 2018 @ 04:19

    Very funny. But I think Haley is an idiot so am not surprised. And you’re right, I would have probably just glanced at that headline, quickly thought it didn’t sound quite right and then gone about my bizness. (Yes, I deliberately spelled that wrongly!)

    What does Wilma think of all this? What does Wilma think of Nikki Haley? Never mind, Wilma’s a smart dog, I know what she thinks of Nikki Haley! 🙂

    • Petrea - February 11, 2018 @ 08:29

      Unfortunately for journalism, the author of this headline is not quoting Haley. He (or she) made it up all by himself! Sometimes headlines are written by editors, not reporters. The site very wisely does not give credit.

  3. William Kendall - February 11, 2018 @ 11:13

    Yes, that would irritate me.

    • Petrea - February 11, 2018 @ 14:36

      That’s because your language skills are anything but coarse!

  4. Jean Spitzer - February 13, 2018 @ 04:50

    These are tough to spot: a real word, spelled correctly, just the wrong word for the purpose.

    • Petrea - February 13, 2018 @ 08:27

      They are, especially if you’re using spellcheck. It doesn’t know the difference.

  5. Petrea - February 13, 2018 @ 08:29

    I’ve been thinking on this. “When should I look it up?” I think the solution is to read, read a lot, and choose well. There’s a lot of junk out there. But in every genre and every medium there is good writing.

  6. Rich Thill - February 14, 2018 @ 10:30

    Hi Petrea. Thank you for your blog. I can rely on it to make me smile. Now I’m going to join in. I have ranted for years about spellcheck flaws for the very reason you cite. Obviously a word is not necessarily used properly just because it is spelled correctly. And I fought the good fight with co-workers, friends and family who did not care. Then along came autocorrect and it made spellcheck flaws seem trivial. Now entire words are automagically changed to something else often in direct conflict with the writer’s intended meaning. But no one under 25 seems to care. But I do. And I will go down fighting.

    • Petrea - February 14, 2018 @ 14:18

      Hi Rich. Thank you! I’m glad you spoke up. Language changes, and I know there’s nothing I can do to stop that, but when the prose is so muffled I don’t even understand what’s being said, we have a problem.
      By the way, I like your term “automagically,” which, knowing you, is not a typo.

  7. mdenoune - February 14, 2018 @ 11:11

    Vocabulary:Accrue-verb accumulate or receive (payments or benefits) over time:Customs Union- noun a group of states that have agreed to charge the same import duties as each other and usually to allow free trade between themselves. Eurosceptics- noun a person who is opposed to increasing the powers of the European Union. Negotiator- noun a person who conducts negotiationsPlay by the same rules- idiom to conform to an accepted set of beliefs rules morals or behaviour. Put issue to bed – idiom to complete work on something and send it on to the next step in production, especially in publishingRatification- noun the action of signing or giving formal consent to a treaty, contract, or agreement, making it officially valid:Topple- verb remove (a government or person in authority) from power; overthrow France bans drivers from using mobile phone even when car is stopped From: The Local FranceLevel: low intermediate and aboveIncludes: articleA French court has ruled that it is now illegal for drivers to use mobile phones in their cars even when they have stopped, pulled over or have the hazard lights on.

    • Petrea - February 14, 2018 @ 14:20

      Très intéressant, M. Denoune. Merci.

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