July 30, 2014  •  Skeeter Lewis

What’s happening to the Passive?

Nowadays one routinely reads such sentences as...  “The situation transformed into something quite different.” “That translates as ‘Beware Greeks bearing gifts.’” It’s a curious phenomenon that the passive is so often ditched. What’s going on?

June 4, 2014  •  jayles the unwoven

When is “of course” impolite?

a) “Could I borrow your pen please?”  “Of course.” b) Teacher: “Did you do your homework?”  Student: “Of course.”  c)  Interviewee: “May I sit down?”   Interviewer (thinking: what a twit!): “Of course.” d) Police: “Do you have ID, and license?” Driver: “Of course, officer. Good of you to ask”.  e) Called from the shower: “Is it raining out?” Spouse: “Of course.”  f) In hallway to home-comer: “Is it raining out?” Dripping home-comer: “Of course.” g) At party: “Could I borrow your wife for a quickie?” “Of course.” h) After party: “Are you coming?” Only sober car-owner/driver: “Of course.”  i) Boss: “Can you have that report on my desk by 2300?” “Of course.” Of course it may depend on how it is said, but where would it be dangerously ambiguous? What alternatives are there which are safer?

May 26, 2014  •  Canadaneil

“Between you and I...”

Why do some people, especially pseudo eloquent corporate types, insist on substituting “I” for “me” under the misplaced guise of speaking formal English: “Between you and I, the meeting was substandard”, “Thanks for taking Julie and I for dinner”. I know there’s not much to discuss here. It’s simply wrong but it represents a deeper misunderstanding of the use of nouns/pronouns. Personally I tolerate the incorrect use of “me” as the subject to a much greater extent (”me and Geoff went to the beach “) because although grammatically incorrect, it is acceptable to many in colloquial English. The use of “I” as the object is neither grammatically correct nor colloquial or formal. It is in a sense a clumsy grammatical over compensation. Besides people who make this error usually (but not always) over rate their own eloquence.

May 15, 2014  •  Chy Anne Osborn

co- = subordinate vs. co = equals

Many years ago using the prefix co- and co meant two different things. Now they are used interchangeably, but is this correct? I was taught if you used co- you were a subordinate and if you used co you were equals. An example. A co-pilot is subordinate to a pilot, however coauthors means both writers were equal in the endeavor. Once upon a time, a co-chairwas subordinate to the chair. Now co-chair and cochair are used flagrantly to mean the same thing, they are equally sharing the duties of chairperson. What are your thoughts on this?

May 14, 2014  •  Hairy Scot

Are sports commentators and sports show anchors out to change the language?

All of a sudden spectators are not “looking on” but “watching on”. Does that make them onwatchers? They no longer say “welcome to” but “welcome along to”. “Early on” has become “early doors”. Players now “contest for” the ball. They now “update you” with the latest scores. To me all of that is rather more idiotic than idiomatic.       :-)) I’m sure there are many more examples that I have (thankfully) missed.

April 7, 2014  •  Hairy Scot


I should probably count myself fortunate that I almost reached my allotted three score and ten without having come across this dreadful word. But alas my belief that a mentor has a protégé has now been cruelly shattered.

March 17, 2014  •  Hairy Scot

Pronunciation Etiquette—Hypothetical Question

Two scenarios: You are an antipodean cricket commentator and during a broadcast you realise that your Indian co-commentator is pronouncing some words/names differently from you. You are at a social gathering and notice that everyone else pronounces words/names differently from you. The words/names in question could be for or example: Tendulkar with a soft ‘oo’ sound as opposed to your hard ‘u’ (as in dull).Nepal with “paul” as opposed to your ‘pal’.Debut as ‘dehbyew’ as opposed to your ‘dayboo’. In each situation how do you react?

January 25, 2014  •  Warsaw Will

tonne vs ton

I’m all for the metric system, and I’m sure a lot of British schoolchildren would be well pissed off if UKIP’s idea of restoring the imperial system ever came to fruition. But I do find sentences like this, in a item on the BBC website, rather strange and unnatural: Mr Teller says the first question is not “How can we make a tonne of money?” I know that tonne is our unit of measurement now, but does it have to take over our idioms as well, especially as this is probably more of an American idiom anyway (I think we Brits would be more likely to say ‘ton(ne)s of money’)? The following idioms are all listed in British dictionaries with ‘ton’ or ‘tons’: They came down on him like a ton of bricks. That bag of yours weighs a ton! I’ve got tons of work to do. We’ve got tons of food left over from the party. I don’t know why the BBC insist on using tonne in idioms. Perhaps they think young people won’t know what a ton is. I say keep the idiomatic ton, and leave tonne for weights. After all people don’t say they’re off to spend a new penny, do they? (Actually I’m not sure anyone says that anymore anyway!)

April 1, 2013  •  Hairy Scot

“Harsh but true” vs “harsh but fair”

Discussion on appropriate use of these two phrases came up on another forum. I believe it depends on context. Would be interested in hearing other views.

February 27, 2013  •  Hairy Scot

“deal to”

Another oddity from my favourite source, The New Zealand Herald: “Perhaps it’s time to deal to the ads that are just plain downers?” It may be an undetected error or a misprint, but knowing the Herald, I’m sure the author, the proof readers, and the editors, all thought that “deal to” made perfect sense in the given context.

November 23, 2012  •  Thomas Smith

Where used you to live?

I’m an English teacher in France. In this question I am seeking confirmation that the following use of “used to” is no longer in use. I’m willing to be enlightened. “Where used you to live before you came here?” The form that I would employ is: “Where did you use to live before you came here?” My source is “Pratique de l’anglais de A à Z” by Michael Swan and Françoise Houdart. In this book they say that you can use either with or without the auxiliary ‘did’. I would not have been shocked by “Where were you living before you came here?” The book is really very useful and well organized, but occasionally I come across sentences that seem (to me) to be archaic. The version I have was published in 1983. And before any of you say it, no this is not my only source for my English lessons. So I would be glad of your opinions.

October 14, 2012  •  cst

“He gave it to Michelle and I”

I have heard the president hypercorrect personal pronouns as in “he gave it to Michelle and I.” Is this common now even in the highly educated? Would this have been heard by a highly educated person 30 years ago?

October 12, 2012  •  Hairy Scot

“nearby to where he lives”

Another interesting phrase from The Independent: “nearby to where he lives” This journalist must be paid by the word. Wonder what was wrong with “near where he lives”? Link to the article »

October 12, 2012  •  Hairy Scot

“Liquid water”?

The phrase “liquid water” seems to have become very much in vogue with science correspondents in the media. Does the fact that most of us probably view water as being liquid not render this particular neologism redundant, and reveal it as another example of members of the fourth estate, or perhaps the people they interview, trying to be ultra clever? Shall we all now be required to start referring to ice a “solid water” and steam as “gaseous water”?

October 6, 2012  •  Hairy Scot

“Bring” vs. “Take” differences in UK and American English

English (other than American English) has a clear differentiation between the two words. Both are about moving something. In “bring” the something of somebody is moved to where the speaker is currently situated. “Take” is used to indicate moving something or somebody to a place that the speaker is not currently at. I have heard and read examples of these two verbs being confused in a number of American movies and TV shows, and in a number of books by American authors. Jeffrey Deaver is one author guilty of this along with other flaws like misuse of perpendicular, another is George R R Martin in his Song of Ice and Fire series. For example, in the UK a boy will say to a girl, “May I take you home”. Meaning “may I escort you to your home”, not “would you like to come back to my place”. Whereas in the US “May I bring you home” would be be more common. Similarly, a UK girl might say “Would you take me home please” as opposed to “Would you bring me home please”. Why does this confusion exist and persist?

May 21, 2012  •  lycen

Adverbial scope of ‘tomorrow’

For the following sentence; I suppose the adverbial scope of ‘tomorrow’ only covers the verb ‘work’ ie. I have to (work tomorrow). Where ‘have to’ refers to present obligation. What about this: Tomorrow I have to work. Here it ‘tomorrow’ is emphatic and ‘have to work’ seems to be within its adverbial scope. Thus ‘have to’ here appears to mean a future obligation - of tomorrow. I think there’s a difference between both sentences. Any opinions?

May 10, 2012  •  Hairy Scot

Difference between acronyms and initials?

I have always believed that an acronym had to be a pronouncable word, like RADAR or LASER, not just a set of initials like IBM or CIA, but I see more and more references that suggest that this is not a generally held belief. Even the OED seems confused:- 1. A group of initial letters used as an abbreviation for a name or expression, each letter or part being pronounced separately; an initialism (such as ATM, TLS). 2. A word formed from the initial letters of other words or (occas.) from the initial parts of syllables taken from other words, the whole being pronounced as a single word (such as NATO, RADA). Although Chambers states: acronym (noun) a word made from the first letters or syllables of other words, and usually pronounced as a word in its own right, eg NATO. Compare abbreviation, contraction, initialism. Let the games begin! :-)

March 11, 2012  •  Hairy Scot

-age words

New Age Words? Just how far will the practice of adding “age” to existing words be taken. To date we have:- signage being used instead of signs, sewerage being used instead of sewage, reportage being used instead of reporting. I am sure there are many other examples of this particular fad. The media, of course, have adopted the fad with enthusiasm.

March 6, 2012  •  Jay Fernandez


Is “tailorable” a proper word? The context of the word is intended to convey that a document is able to be customized, or tailorable. Tailorable sounds like a reasonable use of “tailor”, especially in the (DoD) Infortmation Technology (IT) industry.

February 27, 2012  •  Dyske

Collins Dictionaries

The new website for Collins Dictionaries is pretty slick. I think the user interface design is well done. Dictionary is something people use frequently, so the interface design and performance matter a lot. Most of the time, I use the dictionary app that came with my Mac because it’s the surest and the fastest way to look up a word. On my iPhone, I use Merriam-Webster App for the same reason (as opposed to going to a mobile-friendly dictionary site on the browser). In both cases, as long as the Internet connection is decent, the Web versions are just as fast as using the native apps, but there are times when the response is slow on the Web (or lose connection entirely). So, my logic is: Since the native apps would always be fast (or consistent), why bother using the Web-based apps? This is particularly true because the content of dictionaries do not change frequently. It’s not like looking up news stories. So, I’m wondering if there is a way to cache the majority of the words locally so that the performance would be consistent regardless of the Internet connection speed. One thing I don’t like about the new design on Collins: When I look up a word in a dictionary, I’m either reading or writing something, which means I have either a browser or a text editor open. I would want to be able to look at both the dictionary window and the browser/editor side by side. To be able to do this, the window size of the dictionary needs to be small (especially now that laptop computers are more common than desktop computers). This is another reason why I end up using Mac’s dictionary app. Its window is small. It can always be floating somewhere on my screen. The design of Collins dictionary does not allow you to make its window small. I think it would be easy enough to write a Javascript that would bring the search input area under Word of the day when the window is resized to be smaller than its default width, or simply swap the position between the two areas so that the Word of the day area would be cropped (not the search input) when you make the window smaller. I’m curious to hear what dictionaries other people use.

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