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The English language is full of weird and wonderful phrases. With so many to choose from, it’s not surprising that we sometimes get them wrong.

Here we sort the moots from the mutes, and the fell from the foul, and explore some of our most popular ‘eggcorns’ – those linguistic turns of phrase that we just can’t quite get right.

To be on tenterhooks, not tenderhooks

This phrase, meaning ‘to feel tense’ or ‘be in a state of uneasy suspense’, originates from the cloth industry. Damp fabric is fastened to a frame, or ‘tenter’, to stretch it so it dries evenly. The cloth is attached using hooks, which wouldn’t be all that useful if they were soft and tender.

With one fell swoop, or foul?

You might say ‘with one foul swoop’ to mean something happening very suddenly. But the line is actually ‘with one fell swoop’, from Macbeth. As with other Shakespearean misquotes, such as ‘all that glitters is not gold’ (originally ‘glisters’), the mistaken quote has become more popular than the bard’s own words.

Making a moot point, not a mute point

If a point is moot, it is impractical or irrelevant. Mute points are always left unsaid.

Did it go off like a damp squib, or squid?

This phrase, which refers to something that fails to live up to expectations, leads to one of our more surreal slip-ups. A squib is a miniature explosive device that, if damp, would fail to go off. A squid – unless deep-fried with crispy batter – can reasonably be expected to be on the moist side.

Many more mistakes only appear when written down. With one wrong letter, you could end up ‘towing’ the line rather than ‘toeing it’. And if you’re waiting with ‘baited’, rather than ‘bated’ breath, your readers may think you should consider changing your toothpaste.

To avoid any confusion, it helps to have someone cast an eye over your writing. To make sure you always say what you mean.