I think there are two groups of people reading this right now: those who read the title and wonder what exactly it is I’m going to nip, and those who are ready to mock me for fucking up the expression.
Come on, be honest: which group are you in?
It’s a mistake easy enough to make; maybe you learned the expression as a kid, just repeated it, but never thought about what that configuration of words actually means. Personally, I imagine getting nipped in the ass by a little dog whenever I hear someone say this. Ouch.
My point is, it’s one of those funny mistakes that even native speakers make. But I don’t want to laugh or point at the “Nip-it-in-the-butt” faction because I have belonged to that type of faction before. The “laughed-at-for-being-wrong” faction.
There will always be things for us to point out about other people that will separate us, and give one group the triumph of being “right.” Smart people and dummies. People who use taboo words and those who don’t. Those who argue for protection of free speech and those who argue for protection of marginalized groups from hate speech. People who say “nip it in the butt” rather than “nip it in the bud.” Whatever. People like being better than other people: it’s satisfying. But it’s always good to remember that we all get our turn on the side where the “right” people point fingers and lord that glory over us. I’m more in the camp of “this is a silly game anyway.” Why get caught up in the game when, in the end, we’re all just grasping at straws, and the game is just another way to pass time?
So, I’m learning to recognize my mistakes, my being misinformed on something, my many knowledge gaps, and remember that they don’t define me. It’s just a matter of acknowledging them, giggling at them, and then reminding oneself to pick up a book once in a while.