Miscellaneous Misuses, Part 2

An assortment of things to avoid.

At its most basic

Something can’t be more or less basic; once you’re at the base, that’s far as you can go.

Chomping at the bit

Purists often say that really should be champing (and they’re not wrong). But champ and chomp mean the same thing: to chew vigorously, to munch, to bite at something hard like a horse’s bit.

Chomp is the US variant, champ the English (in the UK chomp is regarded as ‘dialectical’, which is code for non-standard or déclassé) – so take your pick.

Avoid the phrase in any event; it’s a cliché.


To conflict is to be incompatible, at variance, with someone or something else.

Lawyers must avoid situations that involve conflicting interests, but should also avoid the lazy short-hand of conflicted when they mean in a conflict of interest.


We’ve covered this one before, but it bears repeating. Fulsome properly means ‘servilely flattering’ (The guest speaker was visibly embarrassed by her host’s fulsome introduction), not ‘full, complete, detailed, ample’.

That Securities Act disclosure was not likely therefore to have been fulsome.

As pointed out before, however, insisting on the correct meaning appears to be yet another losing battle: a writer in the Financial Times wrote about Picasso’s ‘gloriously well-rounded and fulsome life’ (20 March 2018), while someone in the Globe and Mail referred to ‘a fulsome garbage bag’ (16 August 2018).

Shouldn’t newspaper editors know better?


No, it’s a straitjacket – although you’re in good company if you get this wrong. See Cavendish Square Holding BV v El Makdessi, [2015] UKSC 67 at para 225, where Lord Hodge refers to ‘the straightjacket into which the law risked being placed by an over-rigorous emphasis on a dichotomy between a genuine pre-estimate of damages on the one hand and a penalty on the other.’ (A regrettably large number of other instances may be found through quick searches of CanLII and BaiLII.)

Strait means ‘narrow or tight’; by extension, it’s how we describe a narrow waterway (the Straits of Georgia), tight or straitened circumstances (which may even be dire straits) or that restraining garment from which Lord Hodge draws his metaphor. Not straight (‘direct’).

A ways to go

Mike Pompeo, the US Secretary of State, said at one point that negotiations for the nuclear disarmament of North Korea had a long ways to go. In colloquial, US English, this is a normal thing to say (if something of a understatement in reference to progress with Pyongyang).

In correct written English, use the singular way.

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)

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