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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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I’ve been listening to Van Morrison’s “Friday’s Child” for quite some time now because I love this song so much. I tried to look up the meaning of ” Friday’s Child” but onbly found a reference to an old rhyme. Can anybody tell me the meaning of the saying “Friday’s Child” and when and why it is used? Many thanks.

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Am I alone in despairing when I hear phrases like:

  • “We played brilliant.”
  • “He did it wrong.” (or more commonly “He done it wrong.”)
  • “He behaved stupid.”

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Some people think that there is a difference in meaning between “in that regard” and “in that respect”, some believe that a lot of phrases using “regard” or “regards” are in fact making inappropriate use of the word, and of course some think there is nothing wrong with such usage.

Does anyone else think that the phrase “In that regard” is overused and misused?

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Is there any defense of capitalizing after a semicolon? This reads well to me:

We do not sell tricycles; We sell velocipedes. 

Learn the difference.

Not capitalizing the first word of the second clause diminishes the perceived parallelism:

We do not sell tricycles; we sell velocipedes.

The store around the corner sells bicycles.

With a period between them, the first two clauses read like the premises of a syllogism:

We do not sell tricycles. We sell velocipedes.

Do we sell unicycles?

I will continue, of course, to pen as I please, but, in this instance, wonder if I can confidently publish as I please.

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Is separating two coordinating-conjunction-linked sentences, the former having a comma(s), with a semicolon instead of a comma logically justified?

In GrammarBook.com’s Semicolons category, Rule 5. reads:

Use the semicolon between two sentences joined by a coordinating conjunction when one or more commas appear in the first sentence.

Examples: When I finish here, I will be glad to help you; and that is a promise I will keep.

If she can, she will attempt that feat; and if her husband is able, he will be there to see her.

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The AP Stylebook today announced that electronic mail is now spelled without a hyphen: email. Finally. I personally haven’t used “e-mail” in about a decade. We have a thread here on this topic of how to properly spell email.

http://painintheenglish.com/case/4463

At the time, I commented that it may take another 10 years for this to settle, but it took less than a year!

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How does one know exactly when a word is supposed to end with -“ise” vs -“ize” in Oxford spelling?

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Onamography is a writing technique that involves creatively incorporating proper nouns (company names, celebrities, etc.) in regular English sentences.

A few examples to clarify the concept:

Onnicle 1: The man at the bar acknowledged that he found the job amateurish. Onnicle 2: The SMS said..Bob ill. The rag ate sick shellfish!

The first sentence has ‘Barack Obama’ embedded in it and the second one has Bill Gates. The concept can be extended to include multiple names in a paragraph.

I’ve been trying to find out if there is already a technical name in English to describe it. Onamography is a coined word (Greek origin: onuma --> name, graphe --> writing) as I couldn’t find anything else that comes close to describing the concept.

Any inputs?

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Have you noticed that, at trendy cafes, more than half of the laptop computers you see are the new MacBooks? (Well, at least in New York City.) I don’t mean any MacBook; I’m talking about the latest MacBook (”the brick”). In fact, I believe seeing the older versions of MacBooks is rarer than seeing PC laptops.

If these people are deciding to work at cafes for practical reasons, then the laptop demographic should be much more diverse, with a lot more PCs and older versions of MacBook, but this is not what I see. The demographic is heavily skewed towards the latest models of MacBook. So, I would have to conclude that the reason why these MacBook owners come out to cafes is because they want to show off their brand new MacBooks.

It would makes sense, therefore, to coin a term for showing off your MacBook at a cafe. I’ve struggled with this for a while, and this morning, I decided that it should be “Mac off”.

“Hey, honey. I’m gonna go Mac off at the Starbucks for a few hours, OK?”

“At a cafe in Williamsburg, I saw about a dozen people sitting in a row Mac’ing off.”

“I bought the new MacBook Pro last week, but I haven’t Mac’ed off yet.”

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If you have a kid and a stroller, I’m sure you’ve experienced this many times. You hang a lot of stuff from the handle of the stroller, and when the kid jumps out of it, the whole thing topples over.

One of my friends wants a word for this (a verb). I tried to think of one, but I couldn’t come up with a good one. (”Stropple”, for instance, isn’t so good because the sound of it lacks the impact of the actual event.) Can anyone think of one?

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Latest Comments

eat vs. have breakfast

To " have " breakfast is to " eat " and "drink" something.
To " eat" breakfast is to only eat something.
Thus, have is more convenient and makes more sense to use, especially when you're teaching ESL students.

@jtu
I rest my case.

@HS I don't recall being taught anything about collective nouns plus singular verbs at school; perhaps it was taught and I was so busy daydreaming about our French conversation mistress at the time and worrying about my sinful thoughts that I missed it. Presumably your syllabus was different or you were more attentive.

@jtu
I just have one more question:
Do you, and those who share your thoughts on issues like this, believe that those of us who attended schools and universities prior to 1965 should forget all that we learned about the English language in that time and adopt the various fads and errors that have become commonplace since then?

@jtu
That is a typical descriptivist cop out.
Your use of "different to" illustrates that you are firmly in the camp of those who just like to be different for the sake of being different and who have absolutely no respect for the language.
No doubt you will soon be advocating the use of "should of" as a correct alternative to "should have" and that perpendicular just means at right angles with no regard to plane.
How do you stand on mixing up past tense and past participle?

Whether it is "correct" or not would hinge upon the criteria used. However if "people who are apparently reasonably well educated" persistently and knowingly use words such as "family" with a plural verb, despite "what has been taught for decades in schools in the UK and elsewhere", there must be a good reason, they must feel comfortable doing so, and editors do not automatically edit such constructions out. If you feel uncomfortable with this, then your eduction or background or thinking must be different to theirs.

@jtu
"@HS It's not just Jane Austen:
http://www.google.co.nz/search?q=%22the+family+...

Does that makes it correct?

@jtu
Are you saying that Jane Austen could not have been wrong?

You know, it really surprises me that people who are apparently reasonably well educated seek to gainsay what has been taught for decades in schools in the UK and elsewhere.
It's a bit like the old lady watching troops marching past and exclaiming, "They're all out of step bar our Willie".

@HS You have not actually explained Jane Austen's use of 'family' - a "collective" noun - with a plural verb, which seems contrary to your opening post: 'Despite arguments to the contrary, "family" is a collective noun, and I don't care how many family members there might be, it therefore gets a singular verb.'