5 Common (And Really Annoying) Writing Mistakes

Here are some writing mistakes I see almost every day. Maybe only other ex-English majors who sputter and rage at the CNN crawl will enjoy this post, but I had fun writing it.

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1. Free reign
It’s free rein. Reins are for horses and reigns are for kings. Free rein means voluntarily giving over power: if you loosen your hold on a horse’s rein, then it can wander a bit and speed up or slow down as it likes. So unless you’re writing about Pol Pot, Genghis Khan or the U.S. Congress, you shouldn’t say free reign.


2. Died in the wool
It’s actually dyed-in-the-wool. Someone who’s described as dyed-in-the-wool is resistant to change. The expression means dyeing unprocessed wool instead of fabric, because I guess dyeing woven cloth was innovative back in the day. If you’re not referring to someone who was fatally pummeled by a flock of sheep, you want to write dyed-in-the-wool. Hyphenating it is both correct and pretentious.


3.  Baited breath
It’s bated breath. The “bated” in this expression is short for abated, so like holding your breath.  If you’ve eaten an omelet loaded with onions and garlic and chased it down with three cups of coffee before heading into a screaming match, baited is correct.


4. Fairs well
You should write fares well instead. Fare is a verb, fair isn’t supposed to be. But this guy is undeniably fairing well.

Saturday Night Live

5. Raise the steaks
It’s raise the stakes. The expression means upping your bet, not lifting up the cuts of meat you buy after your bookie pays you.