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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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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”?

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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?

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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?

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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! :-)

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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.

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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.

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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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I hear people, including journalists and other professional speakers, say “...but that’s a whole nother story.” I’m afraid that “nother” will show up in the dictionary someday as our language continually devolves.

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What is the best euphemism for shithouse and/or urinal? I always feel that words like lavatory, toilet, privy, or rest room, don’t quite hack it. Perhaps “the head” or heads may be about the best. No prizes for the winner.

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The phrase “would of” seems to be coming more and more common. I have heard it used in a number of films and have also seen it used in print when the author is depicting direct speech. However, I was amazed to see it used outside of the direct speech context in a novel I am currently reading. I appreciate that “would’ve” could be heard as “would of” but the increasing use of this phrase is damning testimony to the malaise that afflicts our language.

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Latest Comments

X and S

How do I make the name Fox in possessive plural form?
Ex. Ms. Fox' instructional practices... or Ms. Fox's instructional practices...

He was sat

  • Marusja
  • February 17, 2017, 7:04am

I can see that there is a long and diverse discussion on here, but my response is to you Brus, hailing from the British Isles. The epidemic as you rightly describe it, seems to be spreading contagion like from the BBC and into written material. "I was sat" and "we were stood" are examples of colloquial terms from the North of England. Dialects are unique to an area and rich in expression when used in an authentic way and don't appear out of place.

The reason we may be startled by the sudden introduction of such vernacular is due to it simply being out of place when spoken by someone who has been educated in the Queen's English. It rankles because it is wrong in our ears. Unfortunately, this is a legacy of inverted class snobbery whereby some people think that they should downgrade the language in order not to sound 'posh'. It backfires spectacularly though upon them when they try so hard to fit in with the crowd, rather than represent the side of 'well spoken'. I cringe whenever I hear these dialects out of place, not just because of the infringement but also because it doesn't sound beautiful or harmonious, but clumsy.

My mother couldn't speak English when she arrived in the country shortly after WW2. By listening to the radio and armed with a dictionary and the daily newspaper, she taught herself through these mediums. Later she read to us as children and took us to the library, where I inherited a love of the language, reading several books a week by the time I was 7 years old.

Although we lived in the Midlands, I didn't have a regional accent since my exposure early on had been to programmes such as 'Women's Hour' and radio presenters in those days all and without fail spoke to a standard considered appropriate. After all, they were communicating to all and needed to be understood widely.

On passing the eleven plus exam and entering Grammar school, we had a Headmaster and a Head Mistress. Miss Simister had a passion for the English language and heaven forbid any pupil who might drop an H or flatten a vowel. I felt right at home there.

It wasn't about being elite, it was about learning and knowledge. It was about aiming for excellence and drawing out the best in oneself.

Miss Simister would turn in her grave were she to hear the downfall of the language. As someone born and raised in the UK, I can assure you that the standards have slipped considerably. It isn't possible for someone learning the language to be sure that they are being taught English correctly if studying here.

I am not speaking out against dialects as they remain an integral part of our culture. To introduce a convoluted invasion however into received pronunciation is noticeably discordant, drawing attention in the wrong way. It becomes an interruption and tunes out whatever the speaker might be conveying.

There is hope though. Apparently when asked, people do prefer the sublime eloquence of the spoken word as voiced by Joanna Lumley and Diana Rigg, recognizing these dulcet tones to be vehicles of quality, easy on the ear and without question completely trustworthy ambassadors of English in all its glory.

No Woman No Cry

It means, if the woman is gone, there will be no tears. It is a reference to the queen and her rule of Jamaica at the time. It's a political song.

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fill in the blanks!

  • Sheri
  • February 15, 2017, 4:23pm

I have a release of all claims and above the notary & witness signatures, there is this statement:
WITNESS___________ hand and seal this ______ day of _________, 2017; what is put in after WITNESS?

Idea Vs. Ideal

  • FrankR
  • February 14, 2017, 9:18pm

I think that using ideal when idea should be the correct word is a silly way to speak. I hear ideal used incorrectly all the time, it really gets on my nerves. Oh well...

How many “ands” in a row

  • Josh S.
  • February 13, 2017, 3:18pm

Wouldn't it have been clearer if quotation marks had been placed before Peg, and between Peg and and, and and and And, and And and and, and and and And, and And and and, and and and Whistle, as well as after whistle?" This sentence is much easier to read because the writer placed commas between and and and and and and And, and and and and And and and And and and, and and And and and and and and and And, and and and and And and and And and and, and and And and and and and and and.

Twice what it was (= 2x).

He was sat

  • marie
  • February 13, 2017, 1:14pm

Sorry, but your argument doesn't make sense to me. If you were teaching science you would give your students the correct formula. I think the tragedy is that in the UK grammar hasn't been taught for so long, a lot of people who try to teach English don't understand enough to do this effectively. I certainly wouldn't have any respect for a teacher who didn't teach me correctly.

This website was really useless and was no help to me. All I wanted to know was the tension/stress of totalitarianism and it did not give me anything. This website is useless ad it should be taken down. It will be know help to anyone.

Thank You