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This is a forum to discuss the gray areas of the English language for which you would not find answers easily in dictionaries or other reference books. You can browse through the latest questions and comments below. If you have a question of your own, please submit it here.

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Is this not just perpetuating the English caste system? 

Why are words like “a lot of”, ” a bit of”, “get” considered lower-class words and “a great deal/number of” and similar cumbersome periphrases considered “better” ?

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For instance: “We need to do everything we can prevention-wise.”

Other similar words: taxwise, money-wise, property-wise, food-wise

I realise there has been resistance to indiscriminate usage; the question is really about what constitutes “indiscriminate”?

Secondly, why the prejudice against what is a productive and concise suffix, when the alternative phrases are cumbersome and pretentious.

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How do we justify “a” with a non-count noun such as “...to have a knowledge of Latin...” ?

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In my opinion,  the greatest pain in the English language is the so-called Tenses.

Generation after generation, grammarians and linguists have been trying to use the term for describing how English Verb System works writing more and more wise books on the subject, without any visible results.

Millions of ESL/EFL learners find Tenses to be hopelessly tangled, confusing and totally incomprehensible. So do a great number of ESL/EFL teachers.

And it is no wonder, because describing English grammar as having only past and present is like trying to describe a car as having three wheels. 

I think  that English can do perfectly well without “Tenses” because it is a meaningless and therefore useless term.

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A change that has happened in my lifetime is the use of ‘1800s’, ‘1900s’ and so on. When I was young they referred to the first decade of the century. They would be followed by the ‘1910s’, ‘1920s’ et al. Now they’re used to mean the whole century. I’m not whinging - just noting the changes that happen with the years.

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I seem to be pretty fond of the adverb ‘pretty’ used as a modifier, so was rather surprised when one of my young Polish students told me that his teacher at school had said that this use was ‘OK with his mates’ (his words), but inappropriate in the classroom. Looking around I see that this is not an isolated objection, although people didn’t seem to complain about it much before 1900.

Why has this word, much used by eighteenth and nineteenth century writers, writers of prescriptive grammar included, attracted this opposition in more recent times?

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In this question, I deliberately misspelled “mispelling.” 

Is (sp!) an appropriate abbreviation to stand for “deliberately misspelled?”

Many people use

(sp?) for (I don’t know how to spell that word)

Julie Andrews sang Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious (sp?) with great gusto.

(sic) or [sic] is not appropriate here. I understand that [sic] is used to indicate that the word was spelled that way in document that is being quoted or cited.

The new commander consumed [sic] control of the military base.

(illustration modified from an actual case of using the wrong word)

So, it seems to me that we can use

(sp!) for (I am deliberately mispelling (sp!) this word

QUESTION: Is there a better abbreviation, or a well-known abbreviation for this usage?

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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?

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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?

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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.

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How many “ands” in a row

  • gerog
  • January 19, 2017, 9:26am

While at family dinner, my sister, who owns a small clothing store, voiced her frustration with having to manually track and reorder high demand items. She didn’t mind the work but just could not keep up with what was in her inventory and how much more merchandise she needed to replace when the items were sold. She later expressed her desire for an automated system, while bearing in mind that there would only be a very small budget to work with. As the conversation continued, recommendations were made on how to go about improving her situation. The discussion focused on the necessary equipment to be used, the cost involved, and the ongoing maintenance that needed to be performed. A diagram of the workflow would be provided to give the big picture of how the process would work.
Description of Equipment Used
The following equipment will be required to create the inventory control system. Since the point of sales (POS) system, to include the monitor and cash drawer are already in place, to minimize cost the first necessary item is the inventory software. Upgrading to the Inventory Control Standard ICv7 software by WASP is the most cost effective method and provides all the connections to inventory and POS transactions needed for tracking and data information. Next, the DT60 mobile computer, which is a 1D or 2D, Windows embedded handheld 6.5 operating compatibly with several mobile applications. This device stores 256 MB or 512 MB of flash memory for additional storage needs. Additional memory may be added using the micro SD memory slot. Also, as the DT60 scans barcodes, it integrated 802.11b/g/n connectivity allows data transmission over a wireless network to the PC. Therefore, scanning can take place in areas away from the sales counter. For greater protection, data can be transferred to a cloud or an independent server. That would be a consideration for a future upgrade. A barcode printer is an optional device that can be purchased now or later. An advantage of the printer is that it is easy to customize your own barcodes. The WPL305 Barcode printer is the one of choice. It is a direct thermal printer, which means no ribbon is needed. It has a 203 dpi and prints 7 inches per second. Connectivity is USB 2.0, Serial (RS232), and Centronics parallel. It’s also durable and with 8 MB SDRAM and 4 MB Flash. The option to downgrade to a cheaper one that prints small barcode labels is an option as well. Rolls of labels have to be purchased and may be blank for customizing or standard pre-made barcodes. So, with the cash drawer, POS, software, barcodes scanner, additional rolls of barcodes, and printer, the inventory control system upgrade is complete.
Costs of the System
Since there is a very low budget to work with, $2,000 will be the agreed limit. For starters, it was suggested that we start by individually purchasing the items on the Wasp barcode website and then compare them to other sites to find the cheapest buy. The DT60 mobile computer was listed at $995. The Standard - inventory control software upgrade was $195. The barcode printer, WPL305, was a step up as a dual thermal printer and it was listed at $499. One roll comes with the printer. However, additional rolls will cost $25 per 1380 labels. Four rolls will be purchased. Finally, an additional print head and cleaning pen were priced at $199 and $9.99 respectively. The total equaled $1997.99 (Wasp Barcode Technologies, n.d.). That price was compared to a bundle that could be bought on TigerDirect.com website for 1859.99 (TigerDirect, n.d.). The bundle was purchased and the extra money will be for additional supplies.
• Inventory Control Software - Standard
• DT60 Mobile Computer
• WPL305 Barcode Printer with Sample Ribbon and Labels
• 1 Wax Ribbon 2.16" x 820'
• 1 roll of 2" x 1" Thermal Transfer paper labels

Required Ongoing Maintenance
Continual maintenance and upgrades to the software are necessary for this POS system as any other. WASP provides systematic upgrades to the software, which can be pricey if going from the standard to the professional or enterprise levels. However, this software controls the system and is an integral part of the business’ investment. The WASP Company provides ongoing lifetime support for day-to-day operations for free. This type of support can help alleviate any issues that would arise otherwise. Nevertheless, changing out the paper rolls for creating labels on the printer, ensuring that the DT60 hand-held scanner is charged daily, and conducting a system backup should take care of the necessities.
Workflow Diagram
Merchandise in the storage room inventory is barcoded and put on the floor for sale. The customer comes to the store and purchases clothing items. As mobile scanner scans clothing items, data goes into inventory software database. When the inventory or specific items get to a certain low, an alert is transmitted to the system for the owner to verify and then notify the supplier to ship more of that particular item to the store. Upon arrival, the process starts over again, thereby saving time and money, while keeping the customer satisfied with a high-demand product for their purchasing needs. All reports, documentation, and tracking of materials and data are done with one scan of the barcode. QuickBooks may be integrated for accounting data (Wasp Barcode Technologies, n.d.). Figure 1 shows a diagram of the workflow for the system.

Salutations in letters

In email to someone familiar, I open with "Hi" and sign off with "Cheers" or "Slàinte mhath". Otherwise I use "Good day" and "Regards".
In letters it's normally "Dear ......" and "Yours sincerely".
I agree that "Yours truly" and "Yours faithfully" now seem to be considered passé.

How about, "The rent has doubled.", or "The rent is now twice what it was."
Both "two times higher" and "two times as high" sound like phrases used by primary school kids.

Trust me, when you get to my age, mid 60s, you will start complaining when you hear words spoken which you have grown up with all your life, being given totally different meanings and you are supposed to calmly accept these new meanings without having a clue why they have been changed. If someone comes up to me and says hey as a greeting, then for me I am waiting for them to finish. Even when I just hear it in plays or films, it makes me feel very uncomfortable. I'm not writing here to say it's right or wrong just to make folk understand that it can be very unsettling for some of us.

The team has access to multiple sources

On Tomorrow

  • JBS
  • January 16, 2017, 2:22pm

This is an old world English term sometimes trapped in areas of Appalachia, like many other old German, Scottish, Irish and English phrases (or variations thereof). It's commonly used among religious African American folks in Georgia and Alabama from my experience. The reason so many comments have referenced NE Georgia, Kentucky, and North Carolina etc.. is the Appalachian connection.

An extension of solecism?

Actress instead of Actor

I have long found referring to both male and female thespians as "actors" extremely distasteful, as in PC gone amok. When I waited tables, I had no problem with the term "waitress." Then again, I have no problem with the term "comedienne" for a female comedian. The stewardess/steward thing which is now deemed offensive seems patently absurd to me, but well, "flight attendant" it is! However, reading all the comments with historic connotations does help me make a bit more sense of it all. Personally, I have no problem with the masculine and feminine forms of words/professions, and in fact I do buck against changing all of that, but appreciate the perspectives offered. I totally get that a female MD is not called a doctoress in English, but she would be called "la doctora" in Spanish, and a male "el doctor."

Usually a brand name or a play on words, used in advertising. Like the old pop brand, "Hi Klas" rather than "Hi Class" I want to say what that is called. Would an advertising agency know, I wonder? Or a college course in advertising maybe?

Pronunciation: aunt

I'm Mexican native American from Los Angeles California and I use Ant not aunt but I have heard my cousins say aunt before. Personally I prefer ant.