Nip It in the Butt: Common Mistakes in Advertising Communication

You know what wets my appetite? Nothing. It’s “whet’s my appetite.” Sorry to be nit-picky, but there is a reason that we use idioms and colloquialisms when we write copy for advertising purposes. Writing in a conversational tone is inviting to the reader, but it is common to make glaring mistakes when we use figures of speech that we seldom see written. Following is a list of phrases and idioms to keep an eye out for.

Nip It in the Bud

If you were to nip something in the butt, as might a sheep dog, that something might run away or follow the herd. To “nip it in the bud” is to pinch off a blossom before it flowers, a preventative measure.

All Intents and Purposes

This is a big one. What are “intensive purposes?” I guess it makes quasi-sense, the most applicable purposes I suppose? Well, just don’t use it. I’ve also seen “intents of purposes” but it seems less common.

Free Rein

Some people don’t know that there is a difference between “rein” and “reign” because they both refer to a power dynamic. “Reins” are the ropes attaching a horse to a buggy. A “reign” is the period of time that a ruler is in power, “the reign of King James.”

Prix Fixe

You see this one botched on menus and signage all the time, so much so that I really had no idea what it meant for the longest time. It is French for “fixed price.” However, I’ve been offered the “pre-fixed dinner,” and assumed that meant leftovers in the microwave. A “prefix dinner” just sounds funny. Quasi-dinner? Semi-dinner? Non-dinner?

Compare to/Compare With

This one is tricky. The general rule of thumb is if the things being compared are essentially different, you use “to.” For example, I could compare the color of your eyes TO the sky, but I would rather be comparing prices at Target WITH prices at Walmart.


Did you even know these are two different words? Compliments are praise. To complement something is to complete it, for instance it takes all three primary colors to make two complementary colors. Do you really think yellow and purple compliment each other?

Pored Over/Poured Over

To pore over something is to inspect it intently. You can certainly pour some gravy all over yourself if you confuse these two.

Toe the Line

I think the confusion surrounding this one is kind of cute. “Tow the line” has all these nautical connotations. People use it instead of “pulling your weight” as if you are a tugboat. However, toeing the line has military origins, assuming the position for inspection. Toe the line means to meet a certain standard.

Can you think of any more examples? Perhaps you misuse these phrases, you still probably get your point across. However, it is important to get these things right. It shows you have a command over your presentation and that your products or services are of superlative quality.

David Greer writes for education blogs where you can read more about communications graduate programs.

Featured image on the home page provided courtesy of michelhrv

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