How to Make the Right Impression with the Correct Use of Words

Posted by martin.parnell |

As a professional speaker and author, I always endeavour to ensure that I am making the correct use of words and phrases. Therefore, I was interested to read the issue being addressed by The Media Coach, Alan Stevens, ( in his latest post on 21st. June. 

Alan is well known for his sound advice and insight into the workings of the media and the ways in which speakers can improve their presentations. His posts are always enlightening, amusing and well-worth a read. These are his thoughts on this particular subject:       

Are you a pendant? No of course not, since that's a piece of jewellery. However, you may be a pedant, concerned about the correct usage of words. I admit to slight tendencies in that direction, though the fact that every week someone spots a typo or grammatical error in this ezine means that I'm not too fussy at times. Anyway, here are some words that speakers use incorrectly from time to time (not you of course). 

  • Disinterested/Uninterested. The former means impartial, the latter means unconcerned. A football referee should be disinterested, but not uninterested. 
  • Flaunt/Flout. Flaunt means to show off, Flout means to ignore. 
  • Imply/Infer. You imply something by your speech or actions, but you infer omething from what you hear from others. 
  • Tandem/Parallel. In tandem means one after another. Parallel means side by side or simultaneously. 
  • Literally/Figuratively. Literally means something actually happened, so "I literally died" is clearly not true (unless one listens to ghosts). 
  • Bated/Baited. A fisherman waits with bated breath to see if a fish takes a baited hook. 
  • Foreword/Forward. A foreword is the introduction to a book. Forward is a direction. 
  • Appraise/Apprise. If you make a judgement, you appraise. If you are simply informing, you apprise. 
  • Principal/Principle. The former means most important. The latter is a fundamental belief. 
  • Ironic. This is commonly mis-used to mean co-incidental, when it actually means "counter to expectations" Here's a perfect example, from Peter Sellers in Dr Strangelove: "Gentlemen, you can't fight in here! This is the War Room." 

Of course, you may, already, be aware of all of these, but it’s always worth checking a correct pronunciation too. Even if you are using the right word, it matters that you say it correctly. 

Another issue is the common misuse of phrases. On The Inc.Life website, contributor, Christina DesMarai addresses this in her post on July 11th. 2017, entitled 43 Embarrassing Grammar Mistakes Even Smart People Make. Although, as the title suggests, DesMarai gives 43 examples, I will share 10: 

1. First-come, first-serve
It should actually be "served." Without the d, the phrase above suggests that the first individual who arrives will be the one who serves everyone, which is not the idiom's intent.

2. Irregardless
This is not a word. It's simply "regardless," as in "Regardless of what you think about grammar, you'll look silly if you use it incorrectly."

3. "Me" as the first word in a sentence.
I hear people saying things such as "Me and Brandon met at Starbucks this morning" all the time, even though it's always wrong. "Brandon and I met at Starbucks this morning" is correct.

4. Emigrated to
"Emigrate" and "from" always go together, as do "immigrate" and "to." To emigrate is to come from somewhere, and to immigrate is to go to somewhere. "Colin emigrated from Ireland to the United States" means the same as "Colin immigrated to the United States from Ireland."

5. Slight of hand
A "slight" is an insult, whereas "sleight" indicates dexterity or cunning. It's why "sleight of hand" is commonly used in the world of magic and illusion.

6. Baited breath
When I think about bait, worms and lures come to mind. The first word should actually be "bated," which stems from the verb "abate," meaning to stop or lessen. So, if you're trying to say that someone is holding his breath, you can see that "bated breath" makes the most sense.

7. Wet your appetite
"Whet" means to sharpen or stimulate. As such, the latter spelling is more appropriate.

8. Make due
"Due" means "owed," and that's not the intent with this idiom. "Make do" is the proper way to say that you're going to get along with what you have.

9. Peaked my interest
To pique means to arouse, so the correct phrase is "piqued my interest," meaning that my interest was stimulated. While the incorrect way it's written in the heading may suggest that someone's interest was taken to a high level, it's still wrong.

10. Per say or persay
Both are incorrect because the Latin phrase which means "in itself" or "intrinsically" is spelled "per se." The best communicators speak and write clearly and concisely and probably avoid phrases like this one anyway.

DesMarai asks the question: “When someone uses grammar incorrectly do you make an assumption about his or her intelligence or education?” She comments that “Like it or not, words, spelling, and punctuation are powerful and can leave a lasting impression on others.” 

Something to think about next time you’re writing or speaking and you want to get it right!

About the Author

Martin Parnell is the Best-Selling author of MARATHON QUEST and RUNNING TO THE EDGE and his final book in the Marathon Trilogy, THE SECRET MARATHON-Empowering women and girls in Afghanistan through sport, was released on October 30th 2018. He speaks on having a “Finish the Race Attitude – Overcoming Obstacles to Achieve Your Full Potential” and has written for, or been covered by CNNBBCCBCThe Huffington Post, The Globe and Mail, The National Post, Runners World, Men’s Journal, Canadian Business, and Maclean’s.

In a five year period, from 2010 to 2014, Martin completed 10 extreme endurance “Quests” including running 250 marathons in one year and raising $1.3m for the humanitarian organization Right To Play. In 2016 he ran the Marathon of Afghanistan in support of Afghan women and girls running for equality. Find out more about Martin at  and see what he can do for you in the long run.

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