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  1. #1
    royh is offline Newbie
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    Default Err on the side of caution

    Hello everybody.
    I have come across the term "err on the side of caution" numerous times in my life but my understanding of the term is not solid.
    Does erring on the side of caution mean 'being careful when making mistakes' or 'being careful not to make mistakes' ?
    Here is how I might use it:
    "Being aware that this sentence is going to be under tight scrutiny by the UsingEnglish members, I erred on the side of caution by trying to make it sound as correct as possible."
    Please comment!
    Thanks! Have an amazing day, everybody!

  2. #2
    Ouisch's Avatar
    Ouisch is offline Moderator
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    Default Re: Err on the side of caution

    To err on the side of caution means to forego any possible risk and take the safest path or alternative.

    "Even though there wasn't an official Tornado Warning issued, we decided to err on the side of caution and stay in the basement for the duration of the thunderstorm."

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    Default Re: Err on the side of caution

    Quote Originally Posted by Ouisch View Post
    To err on the side of caution means to forego any possible risk and take the safest path or alternative.

    "Even though there wasn't an official Tornado Warning issued, we decided to err on the side of caution and stay in the basement for the duration of the thunderstorm."
    Hi, Ouisch,

    Is it right to write:

    1. To err on the side of caution is not a good way to improve our English, especially in speaking.

    2. To err on the side of leniency is better than to err on the side of caution when practicing speaking a new tongue.

  4. #4
    royh is offline Newbie
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    Default Re: Err on the side of caution

    Err on the side of leniency?
    That's new. What does that mean?

  5. #5
    BobK's Avatar
    BobK is offline Harmless drudge
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    Default Re: Err on the side of caution

    Quote Originally Posted by piousoul View Post
    Hi, Ouisch,

    Is it right to write:

    1. To err on the side of caution is not a good way to improve our English, especially in speaking.

    2. To err on the side of leniency is better than to err on the side of caution when practicing speaking a new tongue.
    I'm afraid 'err on the side of leniency' doesn't work, PS. The only context where I might expect it is with a person in authority who is too indulgent. One might say 'he errs on the side of leniency' when speaking of a teacher who is too tolerant. (It's not a collocation I've met, but a native speaker would be able to make sense of it in that context.) I see what you're trying to do though - to make a contrast between 'err on the side of caution' and 'err on the side of antonym'.

    What you'd have to do is use some other idiom about taking risks - 'jump in with both feet' or 'throw caution to the winds' or 'take the bull by the horns' or 'grasp the nettle' or 'wade in'*.

    But you're right; you have to be prepared to make mistakes - and to make them in public - if you want to learn a language.

    * These idioms don't mean the same thing, but you might do any of them when learning a language:

    Rather than test the water first - asking directions to places he already knew - he jumped in with both feet and ....

    He had always used a dictionary and planned what he was going to say, but at the party he had to throw caution to the winds and do whatever he had to to make himself understood.

    He knew it would be much harder to communicate by telephone, but he realized he had to do it some time; so one day he grasped the nettle and telephoned a friend.

    Using the past perfect in this context was risky; he might be misunderstood. But he felt he had to take the bull by the horns.

    He wasn't sure whether he could say all that he had in mind, but in the end he just waded in and tried.


    b

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    Default Re: Err on the side of caution

    Quote Originally Posted by BobK View Post
    I'm afraid 'err on the side of leniency' doesn't work, PS. The only context where I might expect it is with a person in authority who is too indulgent. One might say 'he errs on the side of leniency' when speaking of a teacher who is too tolerant. (It's not a collocation I've met, but a native speaker would be able to make sense of it in that context.) I see what you're trying to do though - to make a contrast between 'err on the side of caution' and 'err on the side of antonym'.

    What you'd have to do is use some other idiom about taking risks - 'jump in with both feet' or 'throw caution to the winds' or 'take the bull by the horns' or 'grasp the nettle' or 'wade in'*.

    But you're right; you have to be prepared to make mistakes - and to make them in public - if you want to learn a language.

    * These idioms don't mean the same thing, but you might do any of them when learning a language:

    Rather than test the water first - asking directions to places he already knew - he jumped in with both feet and ....

    He had always used a dictionary and planned what he was going to say, but at the party he had to throw caution to the winds and do whatever he had to to make himself understood.

    He knew it would be much harder to communicate by telephone, but he realized he had to do it some time; so one day he grasped the nettle and telephoned a friend.

    Using the past perfect in this context was risky; he might be misunderstood. But he felt he had to take the bull by the horns.

    He wasn't sure whether he could say all that he had in mind, but in the end he just waded in and tried.b
    Hi, Bob, can you hear the applause? I'm giving you a big hand here. That is a heavenly illustration you wrote.
    Thank you. I'll keep that in mind.

    What about this:

    It's better to err on the side of tolerance than that of caution when practicing speaking a foreign tongue?

    Would it sound better?

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    Default Re: Err on the side of caution

    "Even though there wasn't an official Tornado Warning issued, we decided to err on the side of caution and stay in the basement for the duration of the thunderstorm."

    "Even though there wasn't an official Tornado Warning issued, we decided to be on the safe side and stay in the basement......................."

    Are they the same?

  8. #8
    BobK's Avatar
    BobK is offline Harmless drudge
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    Default Re: Err on the side of caution

    Quote Originally Posted by piousoul View Post
    [SIZE=3][COLOR=green]...

    What about this:

    It's better to err on the side of tolerance than that of caution when practicing speaking a foreign tongue?

    Would it sound better?
    Not 'tolerance'. I don't think that sort of balanced sentence will work, however hard you try! Perhaps: "When practicing speaking a foreign language, you should remember that you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs." or "..., you should throw caution to the wind."

    Quote Originally Posted by queenbu View Post
    "Even though there wasn't an official Tornado Warning issued, we decided to err on the side of caution and stay in the basement for the duration of the thunderstorm."
    "Even though there wasn't an official Tornado Warning issued, we decided to be on the safe side and stay in the basement......................."
    Are they the same?
    Almost... as good as.... yes (that is, I have a feeling that there is a tiny difference, but I can't put my finger on it).

    b

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    Default Re: Err on the side of caution

    Maybe the difference is that if you decide to be on the safe side you don't do anything really, so actually you don't err. Whilst if you err on the side of caution you're willing to take calculated risks.

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