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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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What is the reason that I often hear educated people (and so much of the old research material I’m using) speak using negations. Many people also advise this style of speech/writing.

I’m referring to things like “Not dissimilar from...” or “Not unfriendly...”

Why?

I can understand in some situations where a thing is not binary; if it is not A that does not mean it is B. However, I have heard it used for some things that just seem utterly stupid. I mean on the level of “The TV is not off...,” it can only be one other thing can’t it? Am I missing something?

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After moving from Chicago down to northeastern Georgia, I have noticed an extremely vexing trend among many of the native Southerners. The phrase “on tomorrow,” i.e. “We will have a staff meeting on tomorrow.” The first time I heard this spoken out loud I assumed it was a mistake; when I continued to hear the words spoken from several different, well-educated, people I assumed it must be dialectal. “On yesterday” has also found itself crept into everyday conversation...

Has anyone ever heard (or spoken) such a phrase? Is this a Southern thing? It just sounds unnatural to me and I do not understand why it is deemed necessary to put the preposition in front of tomorrow (and sometimes yesterday). “We will have a staff meeting tomorrow” sounds just fine to me.

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Wondering a) if “quality-control” is a verb b) if it is, should the hyphen be used or not - two instances are found on the “About” page of this website - one with, one without:

“As long as we quality-control questions, we should not have to quality control comments.”

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I was challenged by a colleague of mine with the subject question to me the other day.

I turned to several resources but failed to find a satisfactory and convincing answer and PainIntheEnglish is my last hope.

Can anybody help me?

Thanks a lot!

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When completing forms that ask for my personal information, I find that many forms ask for “Street Address.” I dutifully fill in my home street address. When I do this I find that, a couple of weeks later, I get a phone call asking me if I’ve moved because a mailing addressed to me was returned marked “unable to deliver.” I explain that I don’t receive mail at my home address, and that I have a Post Office Box for that purpose. The frustrated caller then corrects the information that I provided on the form. I calmly explain that I provided the correct information that was asked for. But this wins me no points with the caller.

On other occasions, I have been able to ask someone, “Do you really want my “street address,” or would you rather have my “mailing address?” On many of these occasions I have been told, “No. We have to have your physical street address.”

So it appears that when a form says “street address,” sometimes they really want a “mailing address,” and at other times they really do want a “street address.”

Is there a general rule of thumb to decipher what people really want?

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John said, “My birthday fell on last Friday.”

If the above is reported, which verb should I use?

John said that his birthday fell/had fallen on the previous Friday.

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“The liquidity is high, as evident/evidenced from the Reserve Bank of India’s reverse repo auctions.”

Which one of these two words would be more appropriate here? How do we decide that ?

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I’ve seen some writeups around the internet where they use the word “con-cum” or “con cum with”. I know “cum” means with in Latin like “suma cum laude” or transformation like “bus cum green house (bus converted to green house). Can anyone tell me how to use “cum” correctly, or should I avoid it as much as possible?

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When writing, “the below changes will take place tomorrow” followed by a bulleted list of changes, would it be more correct to use the phrase “the following...”? Or, is this a matter of personal style? In the above context, what is the phrase “the below”, an adjective?

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Question; are you going to the game? If I am, I say yes. Sometimes the question is framed “You’re not going to the game, are you?” If I’m not going I maintain the response is YES. as in yes, I’m not going. This has been a source of friction with a friend for some time. Comments please over this picayune dribble.

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Latest Comments

Horizontal Stripes?

We just had this very discussion in the office which brought me here... the boss believes they are Hoops, however, 6 colleagues in the office, 1 of the colleagues wives and even the bosses 13 year old daughter all agree... definitely... Stripes. Some say that for clothing Stripes implies vertical and that they would call them Horizontal Stripes... but all agree that Hoops is not the correct term for it.

Might could

  • vgb
  • June 29, 2016, 9:53pm

I am from all over, but my parents are from Idaho, so I'm not sure the regions identified in previous posts have a monopoly on the form. Anyway, I inherited "might could" from one of parents, and find it very useful. The way I use it, it deflates the less cooperative "might," alone as in "I might do that," which sounds like a teenager challenging an authority figure.

"I might could do that" suggests a willingness to try rather than an insouciant "I might," as in "if I feel like it."

I have a BA in English and an MA in teaching English as a Second Language. If one of my international students used "might could," I would be over-joyed. There are so many worse "infractions" with modals. Believe me, I see them every day.

all _____ sudden

  • vgb
  • June 29, 2016, 8:11pm

I hear "all the sudden" in interviews on NPR. I agree with asheibar that such colloquialisms emerge because they are heard and passed on, but not seen in written text. It reminds me of the occasion someone had written on the blackboard, "It's a doggy dog world." Clearly, whoever wrote this had never seen the written version, "It's a dog eat dog world." Well, marzy dotes and dozey dotes and little lambsy divey" !

It does not bother me that colloquialisms emerge and colonize the language; what bothers me is that it seems that reading is becoming a quaint, anachronistic habit performed by backward looking people who haven't caught on that it's all in the tweet.

The term "First" or "Second Generation", omits the obvious, first or second generation "American". If we say that those who immigrated are the 1st, then by definition their children are 2nd. But that poses a problem, not everyone who immigrates becomes an "American" (11 million are not even legal residents). Although a bit confusing because many of them (I am one of them) do end up becoming American, for clarity, we need to start calling only those who are born here the First Generation.

It's always been LEGO to me (caps or not). I see people who use "Legos" as casual consumers of the product, and should have no business writing about LEGO for public viewing.

Did I get an earful on a "Hey!" when I was in London!!

The concierge in my apartment really took offence when I casually greeted him - "Hey!"

I got something on these lines:
"That's very disrespectful of you. How dare you 'hey' me?!"

So I have been ever so careful when using "hey" over a "hi" or a "hello". I thought this was a very English thing, but quite surprising to find quite a few English folks on this page to be okay with "hey".

Hey, what the heck!

Might could

  • jeb
  • June 26, 2016, 3:08pm

I might could say something about snobby grammarians...bless their hearts...but I won't.

As a well educated native of southern Appalachia (BA in English; PhD in Education), I can say with confidence that might could is mighty useful modal construction that conveys nuance and a sophisticated appreciation of the historical English, at least as spoken by the Scotch Irish settlers who populated these parts.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Appalachian_English

Indirect Speech?

Oops.
Forgive the extra line in my previous post.
A thought that died at birth.

:)

Indirect Speech?

We could call it "oblique speech", or even "roundabout speech", or we could use a derivative of euphemism, metaphor, or allegory.
I am sure there a a number of terms that could be used to avoid the inevitable confusion caused by the use of the term "indirect speech" in this context.
.
Perhaps a simpler solution would be to refer

Someone else’s

  • Don
  • June 25, 2016, 3:04pm

An adverb, such as else, cannot be made possesive. That is reserved for nouns and pronouns. Else cannot be made in a possesive form. If used, it is poor English.