Proofreading is much easier when you know what to look for in a document. That’s why we cover many common errors in our Becoming A Proofreader course. And to help you spot even more mistakes, in this post, we’re looking at five commonly misused phrases.
First Come, First Serve (First Come, First Served)
“First come, first served” means that people will be served in the order they arrive (i.e., the first to come will be the first to be served). However, some writers miss the “d” from “served”:
We operate on a first come, first served basis. ✓
We operate on a first come, first serve basis. ✗
Look out for this missing “d” if you see this phrase in a document.
You might also need to check the punctuation in this phrase. For example, some people hyphenate it when using it adjectivally before a noun:
We operate on a first-come, first-served basis.
This is a matter of preference, but you should ensure it is applied consistently.
“Shoo-in” started as a term in horse racing, where it referred to the winner of a fixed race. Nowadays, it simply refers to a certainty or easy winner, without the implication of dishonesty:
Patrick is a shoo-in for the school council. ✓
Unfortunately, some people mistake “shoo” for the more common word “shoe”:
Patrick is a shoe-in for the school council. ✗
This is always an error, so make sure to correct the spelling if you spot this mistake.
One in the Same (One and the Same)
The phrase “one and the same” means “the same thing or person”:
My best friend and worst enemy were one and the same person! ✓
However, some people mishear this phrase as “one in the same”:
My best friend and worst enemy were one in the same person! ✗
But “one in the same” does not make sense (unless your client is referring to two things being combined inside a person or thing). As such, it should always be corrected.
Case and Point (Case in Point)
A “case in point” is an example that proves or helps you explain something. But some people confuse the “in” for an “and,” writing “case and point” instead:
The 2008 financial crisis is a case in point for critics of free market capitalism. ✓
The 2008 financial crisis is a case and point for critics of free market capitalism. ✗
As with “one in the same,” this is based on mishearing the phrase and should be corrected.
To Peak Interest (To Pique Interest)
Finally, if something “piques” our interest or curiosity, we want to learn more about it:
The promotion is designed to pique the interest of teens and twenty-somethings. ✓
But many people confuse “pique” with the more common term “peak”:
The promotion is designed to peak the interest of teens and twenty-somethings. ✗
“Peak” can be a verb, but it means “reach a high point” (e.g., unemployment numbers peaked earlier this year). As such, it is not interchangeable with “pique” in this phrase.
That’s it for now! Watch out for these misused phrases when proofreading. And if you’d like us to cover more common errors here, leave a comment below to let us know.