Image by Andrew Martin from Pixabay

You will have heard the old saying ‘The only man who never makes a mistake is the man who never does anything’. Its authorship is ascribed to various great minds including Theodore Roosevelt. However, who was the first to formulate this idea is of far less importance than its message – it’s OK to make mistakes, it happens to the best of us and, as I mentioned in one of my older posts, we should actually be grateful to our mistakes as they help us to learn.

Let’s have a look at some words and expressions we use to talk about things that went wrong.

Before we move on to synonyms and near-synonyms of mistake, I’d like to point out a few common collocations with this word.

We say make a mistake, not do a mistake.

I can’t shake the feeling my best friend is about to make a big mistake marrying a man she barely knows.

Mistakes can be big/huge/little/serious/silly/embarrassing/deliberate (in other words, planned) / honest (=a mistake, not a deliberate action) /common (made by many people) to name just a few of the adjectives that go with this noun.

I didn’t have enough sleep the night before the test and made lots of silly and embarrassing mistakes as a result.

Grammar and spelling mistakes are easier to correct than, say, the mistake of marrying the wrong person.

If you can’t correct a mistake, you can at least realize and admit it. The best thing to do though is to learn from your mistakes so you don’t repeat them in the future. And don’t forget, mistakes happen no matter how hard we try to avoid them.

For a small mistake you can use the word slip.

Our maths teacher is a real psycho – the slightest slip makes him explode with anger.

A howler is a silly mistake that makes people laugh.

Having a tree grow out of their subject’s head is a classic howler every amateur photographer has committed at least once. (Note that we say commit a howler, not make a howler.)

Error is a formal synonym of mistake.

The document contains some spelling errors.

Some of the adjectives that collocate (=co-exist happily) with error are common/small/bad/serious/huge (=very serious)/factual (=one that includes a fact that is wrong).

The editor’s job is, among other things, to check for any factual errors.

Speaking of mistakes printed texts, two words come useful – misprint (= a small mistake in something that is printed) and typo (= a mistake in something that has been typed or printed).

Look! There’s a really funny misprint in this article – it says ‘speed eating’ instead of ‘speed dating’.

You should re-read your emails before sending them – they’re always full of typos.

When you mean to say one word but then accidentally say a different one which sounds similar, that’s a slip of the tongue.

Slips of the tongue can be really embarrassing but are difficult to avoid.

A mistake in which you forget or don’t notice something is an oversight.

I assure you it was just an oversight that your name wasn’t on the list.

A mistake that causes confusion is called a mix-up.

There was a mix-up over the train times, so when we arrived at the station our train had already left.

And the last one for today. The French borrowing faux pas, which translates as ‘false step’ and doesn’t change in the plural, is used to refer to embarrassing mistakes made in social situations, when you say or do something that you shouldn’t.

The silence that followed her question about the amount of money Mark had inherited from his father made Olga realise she’d made a serious faux pas.

That’s it for now. Thanks for reading and remember to try and use the new words you’ve learnt today next time you talk or write about mistakes – that’s the only way to make them stick.

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