Commonly Misused Phrases in Business and Their Real Meaning

I recently heard a well-known speaker continuously use the term "flush out" when what he really meant was "flesh out." When we confuse our words, it weakens our message. Even though the listener often understands what we are trying to communicate, it can create a distraction that makes it difficult for others to focus on what we most want them to know. Here are a few commonly misused phrases in the workplace:

Flush out vs. flesh out. If you flesh something out, you are adding to it, enhancing it, or building it up. If you flush something out, you are bringing it out into the open, such as a SWAT team flushing out a criminal from a hiding spot or a wad of toilet paper getting stuck in the drain: "Allow me to flesh out my point by sharing a few examples of inefficiencies in our current process."

Regardless vs. irregardless. Regardless of how often we hear others say it, "irregardless" is not a real word. When the suffix "-less" is added to the word "regard," it means "without regard." The prefix "ir" adds another completely unnecessary negative. If you have zero regard for something, you can't have any less. Which brings us to our next example...

Could care less vs. couldn't care less. If you could care less, that means you really do care, and that it's possible for your level of concern to be lower. If you couldn't care less, that means that on the care-o-meter, you are already at zero. You don't care for the subject in question even a little, so it would be impossible to care even less than you already do: "I was always the type who couldn't care less about what other people thought of me, but I'm so glad I asked for your candid feedback on my presentation."

Jive and jibe. If you are in agreement with something, it might be tempting to tell others that you jive with it. However, don't be surprised if they then expect you to break into a fast-paced, rhythmic pattern of hand claps and dance moves, a la the television show, Glee. The correct expression is jibe, meaning to agree with or to be in alignment. For example: "The use of erroneous phrases does not jibe with our efforts to clearly convey our thoughts."

First come, first serve vs. first come, first served. If there's a limited supply of something and those who arrive earliest will get their choice of whatever is available, it's first come, first served. They will be served first. Over time, it's become customary to drop the "d" on served, but that really implies that those arriving first will have to attend to everyone else who follows. The correct way to reward the early birds is on a first come, first served basis: "We have 50 Starbucks gift cards available to employees. First come, first served."

Doing good vs. doing well. If someone asks how you are and you say you're doing good, they might be led to believe that you are feeding the hungry, picking up litter from the roadside or otherwise making the world a better place. To say that you are doing good implies that you are busy performing noble deeds. If you don't intend to go into your philanthropic activities, but instead just wish to say you're having a good day, the adverb well describes how you are getting along, so the correct answer is: "I'm doing well, thank you."

Moot vs. mute. This may be a moot point, but I would be remiss in staying mute on this one. Moot describes something that's irrelevant or just doesn't matter. Mute means silent or wordless. So if you are making a mute point, you are presumably doing it without speech. A statement that has no bearing on the discussion is called a moot point.

Do you have any pet peeves when it comes to misused phrases? Tweet me @dianegottsman or comment below.

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