Professional Style

Proverbial

May 2018
Spot the Error

To prepare for the upcoming board meeting, Allison burned the proverbial midnight oil.

Using the word proverbial might sound impressive, but, technically, it is not correct. A proverb is a concise, widely known saying that imparts truth or advice, such as “honesty is the best policy.”

The saying “to burn the midnight oil” is not a proverb; it is an idiom referring to working long past sunset, with roots from the time before electricity. More accurate—yet still impressive—word options for the “board meeting” sentence above include “metaphorical” and “figurative.”

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