Culture and Society

A Damp Squid and Other Such Tales

Many phrases we use are often misquotes from Shakespeare and other traditional sayings – and people do not realise they have made mistakes.

Some of the most popular ‘foh pahs’ were revealed in a British poll, a reasonably long while back. Top of the league is a “damp squib”, a term for failure named after a dud 19th century explosive mining device, which is often mispronounced as “damp squid.” Devotees of the British sitcom ‘The IT Crowd’ would know this one with much delight as Roy tries to explain it away saying ”Its a squid, it has to be damp!”.

Others in the chart include “one fell swoop” which was originally uttered by MacDuff in Shakespeare’s Macbeth but which is often mistakenly repeated as “one foul swoop”. Another favourite from the Shakespearean years is “all that glisters is not gold” which we misquote as “all the glitters is not gold”. The misquote is so common it is now even used in the original source, Merchant of Venice itself.

Others mix up the 19th century nautical term “batten down the hatches”, instead saying “batting down the hatches”, the 14th century phrase “On tenter hooks” which derives from a wooden frame that hung wet clothes out to dry is often mistaken as “on tender hooks.” and the phrase “Find a pin and pick it up,” the first line of a poem in “The Real Mother Goose” book of nursery rhymes is now misquoted as “Find a penny pick it up”.

Technically these are called malapropisms. For a nation that produced Shakespeare, Wordsworth and Stephen Fry, it seems zé Brits aren’t as a literary as me thinks.

The top ten misquotes by British people are as follows:

1) A damp squid (a damp squib)

2) On tender hooks (on tenter hooks)

3) Nip it in the butt (nip it in the bud)

4) Champing at the bit (chomping at the bit)

5) A mute point (a moot point)

6) One foul swoop (one fell swoop)

7) All that glitters is not gold (all that glisters is not gold)

8) Adverse to (averse to)

9) Batting down the hatches (batten down the hatches)

10) Find a penny pick it up (find a pin pick it up)

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