Frighteningly formatted but strangely addictive list of common errors in English

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I am fascinated by the English language.  Even though I make a lot of typos and grammatical errors which my readers are kind enough to quickly point out, I take special note of common errors like "effect vs. affect" (one is a noun, the other a verb). 

So imagine my delight when I stumbled upon this page with hundreds of them (make sure to scroll down past the picture of the book and intro text to see the gigantic list of words).


Flesh out/Flush out*

To “flesh out” an idea is to give it substance, as a sculptor adds clay flesh to a skeletal armature. To “flush out” a criminal is to drive him or her out into the open. The latter term is derived from bird-hunting, in which one flushes out a covey of quail. If you are trying to develop something further, use “flesh”; but if you are trying to reveal something hitherto concealed, use “flush.”

Backslash vs. Slash

This is a slash: /. Because the top of it leans forward, it is sometimes called a “forward slash.”

This is a backslash: \. Notice the way it leans back, distinguishing it from the regular slash.

Slashes are often used to indicate directories and subdirectories in
computer systems such as Unix and in World Wide Web addresses.
Unfortunately, many people, assuming “backslash” is some sort of
technical term for the regular slash, use the term incorrectly, which
risks confusing those who know enough to distinguish between the two
but not enough to realize that Web addresses rarely contain


“Gibe” is a now rare term meaning “to tease.” “Jibe” means “to agree,” but is usually used negatively, as in “the alibis of the two crooks didn’t jibe.” The latter word is often confused with “jive,” which derives from slang which originally meant to treat in a jazzy manner (“Jivin’ the Blues Away”) but also came to be associated with deception (“Don’t give me any of that jive”).

Can you see how strangely addictive this can become?

The formatting is truly painful on the eyes, but maybe this is intentional so that you don’t spend twelve hours straight reading it. 

There is a book and calendar too.  I can’t think of a better gift for the writing nerds in your life.  Too bad my Dad and sister read my blog, since this would have been the perfect Christmas present for them.

This list, created ten years ago by Paul Brians, an English Professor at Washington State University, has been visited by over 8 million people.  Somehow I missed it. Now I have yet one more site to visit when I should be doing something productive. 

*I once dragged a whole online discussion board down a rat hole with a
discussion of "flesh out vs. flush out."  I don’t know why, but it
drove me crazy to hear it used incorrectly.

(Update via Dan about my "effect vs. affect" … I was wrong, or at least not entirely correct.  Look it up on Paul’s list for a complete explanation.  I told you my readers didn’t let me get away with errors!)

12 Responses to “Frighteningly formatted but strangely addictive list of common errors in English”

  1. A common error I have been noticing more and more lately is the incorrect use of “loose” when referring to something that might be lost. The correct word is “lose.” “Loose” means not tight, or to let go as in “let loose the hounds.”

  2. Thanks for this! I have a list of pet peeves and a longer list of can-you-believes about word confusion. I have begun blogging about it because I had fun writing about it in my SAT prep book. (So much more interesting than regular grammar (GROAN))!

  3. Kevin Kuzia says:

    The one that I see making the rounds these days (and making me absolutely nutty) is people spelling “losing” as “loosing”. I have no idea where this first started, but I keep seeing it more and more! It cannot possibly be this hard…


  4. A personally embarrassing memory regarding regimen and regime: I told a doctor I was following a particular life-style regime, immediately realized I’d made an error, but the doctor, with an I’m-smarter-than-you smirk, continued to use “regime” during the rest of our conversation.

  5. One of my favorite sights. Its affect on me has been huge! 😉

  6. Love the article — reminds me of my days studying vocab for standardized tests! 🙂


  7. christi says:

    I held my breath until I saw “all of a sudden / all of the sudden” on that page. That one has bothered me for YEARS. I’ll sleep well tonight.

  8. Tim says:

    Great, great find Pam – thanks! I agree, it is weirdly addictive. I notice with pleasure that the author included one of my favourites – “ATM machine” 🙂

  9. If you write in a language that reads from right to left instead of left to right, which way does a backslash \ tilt? 🙂
    Happy Thanksgiving!

  10. Keith Handy says:

    “Effect” as a verb is not as common, though, and what Pam said is a great rule of thumb for most people.

  11. Melissa says:

    The slash is actually called a virgule for typing and/or dictation purposes. Useless bits of trivia left over from secretarial school. Of course, I attended in the dark ages (1986 or so). 🙂

  12. Dan Lester says:

    No, ‘effect’ and ‘affect’ are both verbs, and the former can also be a noun!

    Well, check out Paul’s page if you don’t believe me…