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 The Diary of a Word Nerd

  • Writer's pictureGrace Kidder

"Uncharted" or "Unchartered" and Other Sayings People Get Wrong

This post was prompted by one of my favorite shows, New Girl. In one of the latest episodes I watched (for like the 3rd time), Jess, the main character, was talking about being in uncharted territory. However, the subtitles had the word "unchartered," which threw me for a loop. It caused me to question if I had been saying this fairly common expression wrong my whole life. After consulting Google, though, I confirmed that I had no reason to panic; whoever wrote the captions used the wrong word.

"Uncharted" means unrecorded or not plotted on a map, but is often used figuratively to refer to anything that is unknown, i.e., uncharted waters or uncharted territory. "Unchartered," on the other hand, is used to describe something that hasn't been granted a charter. A charter can be a few different things, but usually it is a contract about rights or an agreement to lease something. Since "unchartered" applies to such a specific thing, you don't see or hear this adjective used very often.

I was glad I had been right, but the whole ordeal got me thinking about other phrases and idioms that are frequently mixed up or misheard. I did a little digging to find some of the most commonly misheard sayings (and thought of some I've run across in my life), so let's take a look!


Before we start, did you know there's actually a word for this type of word mix-up? It's called an eggcorn, which Merriam-Webster defines as "a word or phrase that is mistakenly used for another word or phrase because it sounds similar and seems logical or plausible." The linguistic term is fairly new; it was coined by Geoffrey Pullum on the Language Log Blog in 2003 after hearing of someone who called an acorn an "eggcorn." Sounds similar, right, and almost like it could be correct?

One of the most well-known examples of an eggcorn is "for all intensive purposes" instead of "for all intents and purposes." Here are a few more, some of which you've probably heard before. (Clarity note: the incorrect version is written first, and the correct version is in parentheses.)

  • nip it in the butt (instead of "nip it in the bud")

  • day-today (instead of "day-to-day")

  • one in the same (instead of "one and the same")

  • add in salt to injury (instead of "add insult to injury")

  • out of the frying pan and into the fryer (instead of "into the fire")

  • mute point (instead of "moot point")

  • by in large (instead of "by and large")

  • beckon call (instead of "beck and call")

  • happy as a clown (instead of "happy as a clam")

Some eggcorns are only evident in writing because they contain a homophone, which is a word that is pronounced the same as another word but has a different meaning. The two (or sometimes three) words can be spelled differently or the same. Some examples of homophones are be and bee; their, they're, and there; new and knew; and bored and board. Here are some eggcorns caused by using the wrong spelling of a homophone:

  • free reign/rain (instead of "free rein")

  • slight of hand (instead of "sleight of hand")

  • shoe-in (instead of "shoo-in")

  • peak one's interest (instead of "pique one's interest")

  • deep-seeded (instead of "deep-seated")

  • baited breath (instead of "bated breath")

What's Starch Got to Do with It?

A woman in a maroon top and black skirt posing in front of a colorful mural on one foot with her other leg extended in front.

One eggcorn that I remember using as a child was "four starch" instead of "forced arch," which is a dance term that means standing on the balls of your feet while your knees are bent—thus forcing your foot to have a greater arch. (Shameless picture of me for reference.) I couldn't understand what starch had to do with anything, so I was very confused any time my teacher would use the term. This lasted for quite a few years (more than I would care to admit!); it wasn't until I saw the phrase written out that I realized my mistake.

Do you have any words or phrases you remember mixing up as a kid (or as an adult; I don't judge)? Leave a comment and see if anyone has used the same eggcorn as you!


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