‘Daylight Savings Time’ And More Commonly Mixed-Up Words

Every March and November, most Americans change their clocks to keep up with the switch into or out of daylight-saving time.

This practice of advancing the clocks ahead an hour is called daylight-saving time. But, because daylight savings time is used so frequently, the term is also considered acceptable. Daylight saving time means that since the clock is moved ahead one hour, you get one more hour of sunlight in the evening—you’re saving daylight.

Some other common variations: daylight-saving timedaylight savings, and DST. In Italy, the practice is called ora legale, which means “legal time.” It is referred to as summer time in British English.

The practice was adopted by the US during World War I in an effort to save electricity, but there are conflicting reports on how effective it is in reducing energy usage nowadays. Some states refuse to follow this practice. Maybe we won’t have to know the correct phrasing of this term for too much longer . . . .

So what other fake counterparts have made their way into the English language, whether they belong there or not?

Is it “expresso” or “espresso”?

The word is espresso. Oftentimes, when people don’t listen closely to a word, they just use other common-sounding words they know to surmise how the unfamiliar word is spelled. So, when people hear espresso, they think express. When you say the word and run the three syllables together, it’s hard to tell if there was an s in there or an x. Except the barista, they always know.

Why an s rather than that pesky x? Well, espresso is a shortened form of the original Italian name for the drink caffe espresso (accent marks omitted).

Is it “thaw” or “unthaw”?

How many times have you said “I’m going to unthaw that pizza” or whatever it is from the freezer. And, even we include unthaw in Dictionary.com! Don’t you really intend to say just thaw though? You want something that’s frozen to become, well, not frozen. So, if you’re saying “unthaw,” everyone may accept what you mean, but in fact you are saying you’re going to re-freeze something that had . . . already thawed. Perhaps, people started using this word incorrectly by combining defrost with thaw? It’s a theory . . .

Is it “irregardless” or “regardless”?

We also include irregardless in the dictionary even though many people think it’s really not a word. So, why is it in the dictionary?

Well, regardless means “in spite of,” as in “the base jumper leaped off the building regardless of the consequences.” As far as irregardless goes, we state “It is considered nonstandard because of the two negative elements ir- and -less. It was probably formed on the analogy of such words as irrespective, irrelevant, and irreparable. Those who use it, including on occasion educated speakers, may do so from a desire to add emphasis. It first appeared in the early 20th century and was perhaps popularized by its use in a comic radio program of the 1930s.”

So, basically because it is so commonly used by people tying to . . . sound smarter . . . we added it to the ever-growing list of words in our dictionary. And, it’s nonstandard . . . not incorrect.

Is it “sneak” or “snuck”?

The past tense of sneak is sneaked, so why have people stuck with snuck since the 1800s? It’s a mystery; no English verb that ends in the -eek sound has a past tense ending in -uck. But, even though it may be “incorrect,” this is another one we include in the dictionary because of its common usage. Its staying power may have to do with the fact that it’s a fun word.

However, Grammarist.com says “People seem to like it, and it appears in even the most editorially scrupulous publications, so at this stage there is no basis for saying “snuck” is incorrect. It’s just new. English has many irregular verb forms, and adding one more won’t cause harm.” Well, we certainly hope not.

Is it “brung” or “brought”?

Apparently, in London and the American deep south, brung is used as the past participle of bring and this has been since the 19th century. So, why do people think brung is the past tense of bring? Maybe, it’s because it is another fun one to say? Maybe, it’s because that’s how people said it as they were brought (wink, wink) up. Or, maybe it stems from literature . . . In Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain wrote: “I give her a turn with the paddle and brung her nose to shore; then I got my gun and slipped out and into the edge of the woods.”

Is it “misunderestimate” or “underestimate”?

A certain former president known for, shall we say, his malapropisms, used misunderestimate in a sentence. We’re fairly sure he meant to say “underestimate,” though some theorize it was an intentional combination of underestimating and mistake. We’re not really sure, and it’s best to just take this one out of your verbal rotation (if it’s in there) and let it rest in peace at the Bush Library in Dallas.

Is it “sherbert” or “sherbet”?

When you’re zipping down the frozen-food aisle and you decide you want something fun for dessert, you open the freezer door and reach for sherbert, right? But, in fact, the word is sherbet(shur-bit) or as we put it, “a frozen fruit-flavored mixture, similar to an ice, but with milk, egg white, or gelatin added.” (Fun Fact: If you type “sherbert” into Dictionary.com’s search box, it redirects to the proper sherbet. So, we know y’all are out there looking this one up.)

Where did these two words originate? Our definition notes that they originated from the Persian word sharbat, the Arabic sharba(t) “a drink,” and from shariba ‘he drank.'” SmithsonianMag.com says “once these words and their pronunciations found their way across the Atlantic, spoken in languages with accents not so easily understood—people made their own interpretations,” thus sherbert was born.

Is it “intensive” or “intents”?

The accurate phrase is for all intents and purposes, yet people will frequently say “for all intensive purposes.”

Our piece on this phrases notes “the cause of the confusion is rooted in this phonetic similarity. For all intensive purposes is what is known as an eggcorn, a label invented in the early 2000s by linguist Geoffrey Pullum to describe words or phrases that are misheard and consequently reform into a new word or phrase.”

Intents and purposes are essentially synonyms, so this phrase is redundant, but the redundancy works well to convey the meaning of all purposes. However, purposes can be intensive. Your purpose to work out at the gym five times a week for three-hour stretches would be characterized by a crazy (questionable) degree of intensity (i.e., “All my intensive purposes at the gym are paying off”).

Is it “old wives’ tale” or “old wise tale”?

We’ve all heard of the term old wives’ tale. This is defined as “a traditional belief, story, or idea that is often of a superstitious nature.” This dates back quite a ways, as it was used in the Good Book: “Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly” (1 Timothy 4:7).”

But, somehow this one gets turned around as an “old wise tale,” which is not nearly the same thing. Maybe people do this because “despite invoking bigoted stereotypes of women and old people, it [still] survives.” So, what is an old wives’ tale? Something like “toads cause warts” would qualify. In fact, this expression itself was known in ancient Greece and a version of it was recorded in English in 1387. Wow, poor toads.

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