10 Misused Workplace Phrases That Make You Sound Unprofessional

Man smiling and putting his hand to his face in embarrassment.

By Katherine Konrad, an experienced marketing professional and recent Celarity contractor 

Well into my adult life, I always thought “up and at ‘em” was “up and Adam”. You may ask why I never looked into who this Adam guy was, and why he got credit for waking up and being productive. Well, I don’t have a good answer for you, but I will say that there are many articles dedicated to this type of misinterpretation so I’m not alone. Also, if my friend Adam is reading this: I don’t care what anyone else says about you; I still think you’re great.

While misinterpreting common expressions can be perfectly harmless, and even sometimes funny – in the workplace, it can make you look unprofessional. Read on to learn about and hopefully avoid these common misinterpreted workplace idioms.

For all intensive purposes vs. For all intents and purposes

Shout out to Microsoft Word’s grammar check. While I was writing, the software identified the correct saying. Can you? While it’s true that you most certainly can talk about a thorough, vigorous, or ‘intensive’ subject matter at hand, the more common saying is “intents and purposes”. Meaning that the topic at hand should serve a wide audience.

I could care less vs. I couldn’t care less

I’m writing this article right now because I could care less about the proper English language. I could care less because I care very much about it. Thus, less amount of caring is possible. If something is of unimportance to you – then, you couldn’t care less about it.

By accident vs. On accident

If I ran into the wall last Friday, that would have been by accident. If I were to say I ran into the wall after running into another person, then maybe I could say: “on (top of this) accident” because it was in addition to another occurrence. I think the important message to take away is that it was by accident. And that people make mistakes and run into walls sometimes, ok?

Flesh this out vs. Flush this out

I’ve heard both said in real life. And in real life, I’ve heard someone say one is right and one is wrong. It turns out, the Internet has more to say about it. Like, if you’re in a meeting and your team is on the cusp of fleshing out a kernel of an idea, you’re about to develop this idea by adding layers and dimension. On the other hand: if you’re in a room ‘flushing’ out an idea? Well, Houston – we have a problem, and the team is trying to pinpoint where the mission went awry.

Irregardless vs Regardless

Regardless of the fact that irregardless is in the dictionary now (by popular demand, I guess?) it’s still not considered the proper word to use. The word ‘hangry’ (a portmanteau of hungry and angry) was also recently added to the dictionary, and I wouldn’t recommend using that word in a professional setting, either. Words are added to the dictionary every year as our language evolves (or devolves, some might argue) in order to keep this tool we use to understand each other up-to-date.

Jive with vs. Jibe with

I was today-years-old when I learned that it’s correct to say, “jibe with” and not “jive with” in a workplace setting. They both mean to be in accordance with – but one is related more to discussion and ideas, and the other is related to music or a catchy beat. Now, if you find yourself tapping your feet at a jazz club, well you might be ‘jiving’ with the music.

Nip in the butt vs Nip in the bud

I would always default to the latter just in case I was wrong – it was the less embarrassing choice. (I mean, I’m not trying to talk about anyone’s derrière at work!) The origin of the correct phrase – “nip in the bud” – actually refers to the bud of a flower which is the origin of blooming flower petals. Thus, the saying means to cut off the issue at the source of the problem: nip it right in the bud.

Sneak Peek vs. Sneak Peak

These may sound the same, but one is right, and one is wrong. If you’re ever using the term “sneak peak” you had better be talking about that one time some mountains jumped out of nowhere and startled you. In a workplace setting, typically “Peek” is referring to a glimpse of a project or data before it becomes entirely available (e.g. “sneak peek”). While “Peak” typically means the highest point of performance or reaching a goal.

Down the pipe vs. Down the pike

One of my first desk jobs consisted heavily of cold-calling prospective clients. Taking a cue from my fellow cold-callers, I’d ask the voice on the other line if they had any work coming ‘down the pipe’ for us. Often the answer was ‘no’ and now I’m wondering if they did have work, but it was coming down the pike. Brb, got some calls to make.

Should have vs Should of

The reason for the common misuse of this phrase is due to its contraction. The contraction “should’ve” is the combination of “should” and “have”. But, said very quickly, it sounds very much like “should of”. The correct form is actually “should have”. Example: I should have written a closing paragraph to this article but I was very tired and I needed to go to bed.

Blond woman smiling at the camera - Katherine konrad.

Katherine is a marketing professional by day and a content creator by night. She enjoys summers in Minnesota, and anywhere else in the winter. When she’s not writing you can find her exploring new neighborhood hangouts; dressed up at a social event; jogging around Minneapolis lakes; or staring at her phone.

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