Submitted by Aadam  •  February 8, 2012

“Literally” in spoken conversation

I am hoping you can help me settle a debate at work. One colleague suggests that using the term ‘literally’ in spoken conversation is incorrect, and that you should use something more appropriate, such as ‘actually’.

I would argue that if I were to mention that I had just bumped into John at the lift, this would typically mean that I had met him at the lift. However, if I were to say that I had literally just bumped into John at the lift, it would imply that I had in actual fact bumped into him.

I would also argue that when speaking with someone if I wanted to explicitly state a fact, for example, ‘literally, all the houses on my road have a red door’, I would use the term ‘literally’ to mean that every door, without exception, was red.

Please could you help settle this debate?

Submitted by llellc  •  February 3, 2012

“advocate for” or just “advocate”?

Is “advocate for” redundant? For example, does one advocate human rights, or advocate for them?

Submitted by Hairy Scot  •  January 30, 2012

Unusual use of “trespassed”

Yet another antipodean oddity?

Found these examples of an unusual use of “trespassed” in a New Zealand newspaper:-

“It is up to the landowner to have them trespassed,”

“The next day she received a letter from her bosses telling her she had been trespassed and not to return.”

“....had been banned from rugby in the Bay of Plenty for five years and had been trespassed by the rugby club. ”

“The notice asked the dozens of residents to cease camping in the area by 8pm tonight, or be trespassed from the area in the “wider interest of the community”.

“Homeless Hamiltonians are expecting to be trespassed when the Rugby World Cup starts - but the evicted men say they will still give a warm welcome to tourists. ”

Submitted by dougincanada  •  January 11, 2012

Negative connotation of “notoriety”

Has the word ‘notoriety’ lost its negative connotation? Nowadays, it seems to be synonymous with ‘fame’ but without the negative meaning to it.

He got his notoriety as a WWF wrestler in the 90′s. (even though he played a ‘good guy’)

He gained notoriety as a sharpshooter in his rookie year. (skilled hockey player)

Submitted by Steven Porters  •  January 8, 2012

Does a lie have to have intent to deceive?

Can a lie simply be not telling the truth or must you intend of deceiving someone? Is deception or motive necessary in it? All of OED’s make reference to deception as a requirement. My Webster’s New World Dictionary also makes repeated references to deceit with one possible exception: “a false statement or action, esp. one made with intent to deceive.” I’m not sure if the especially used there is meant to negate the necessity of motive in the definition or not, considering all of the other definitions requiring it.

Submitted by Hairy Scot  •  November 29, 2011

Perpendicular

When did perpendicular lose its verticality? I have always understood perpendicular as being “at right angles to the plane of the horizon” ie: at right angles and vertical.

OED:- 1. perpendicular, adj. and n. ...Situated or directed at right angles to the plane of the horizon; vertical....

The wall is at perpendicular to the floor but the floor is at right angles to the wall.

But more and more I hear it being used as meaning at right angles regardless of the plane. I have even seen such a reference in print. Once again our good friend Jeffrey Deaver:- “I took a chair perpendicular to his.” Another example of evolution?

Submitted by Rob  •  October 25, 2011

“American”

Is it actually correct to use “American” when referring to residents of the United States? I was traveling in Peru last summer and to my surprise realized for the first time that people down in South America consider themselves to be “Americans” too. After all, South America is as “America” as North America, right?

So to be clear, for a technical publication I’m working on, what’s the best way to refer to residents of the US? Is “American” still acceptable? The study I’m quoting uses “US residents,” but there are times when that phrase becomes unwieldy.

Submitted by Perfect Pedant  •  October 5, 2011

“Under urgency”

“Under urgency”? I recently came across this phrase for the first time in my life. The context was:- “Parliament passed the Copyright Amendment Act into law under urgency last night” Can’t really put my finger on why, and I can’t at the moment come up with an alternative, but it just doesn’t sound right. Anyone have any thoughts on this?

Submitted by Perfect Pedant  •  October 5, 2011

“hone in” vs. “home in”

Why does sports media persist in the use of the phrase “hone in” instead of “home in”. Traditionally, a missile homes in (not hones in) on a target. Hone means “to sharpen.” The verb home means “to move toward a goal” or “to be guided to a target.”

Submitted by sigurd  •  October 3, 2011

whensoever vs. whenever

Are “whensoever” and “whenever” really the same? 

In some of the dictionaries I checked, “whensoever” is defined “whenever”; but I disagree.

For instance, I think “The students may leave whenever they so choose” can be written “[...] whensoever they choose” because “so” is already part of “whensoever”.

Submitted by kellyjohnj  •  September 7, 2011

“This Wednesday” vs. “Next Wednesday”

Why do we say “this Wednesday” when we are talking about next week? Shouldn’t we agree that “this” modifies an assumed week and that the week in question is the current (Sun or Mon thru Sat or Sun) one? If it’s Friday today, we could say “this coming Wed” or “next Wednesday” but not “this Wednesday,” because if we did that, then “next Wednesday” would either mean Wednesday of the week after next, strictly speaking, or given ambiguity could mean the very same day as was indicated by “this Wednesday.”

Submitted by Brus  •  September 4, 2011

What happened to who, whom and whose?

Has the English relative pronoun ‘who/whom/whose’ been banned while I was not looking? It seems to have been replaced by the ugly use of the word ‘that’. On the rare occasions when it can be spotted in printed prose in, for example, a newspaper, ‘who’ is used for ‘whom’ and it is all very disappointing. I write as a disillusioned and pedantic old schoolmaster (retired) whose 12 year old pupils had no problem learning how to deal with ‘who’ and ‘whom’ and ‘to whom’. I blame the Americans for this desecration of our language.

Submitted by hero  •  September 2, 2011

Oblige to mean “force”

LDOCE says that “No one can oblige you to stay in a job that you hate.” is not correct. Do you think that this sentence is acceptabale?

Submitted by Jamie Fritz  •  August 26, 2011

“for long”

Why is it that the phrase “for long” can only be used in a negative sentence? For example:

  • I didn’t see her for long. » I saw her for long.
  • I wasn’t there for long. » I was there for long.

It’s the case in other phrases using the word long when referring to time:

  • I won’t be long. » I’ll be long.

It seems strange to me that only one is acceptable, yet it would have the same meaning in both sets of sentences, were the positive use acceptable.

Submitted by lanora  •  August 20, 2011

“think of” vs. “think to”

My husband is from the UK. I am from the USA. We have a grammar question. I will post two questions which demonstrate the question of the use of the word ‘to’ instead of ‘of’ in a sentence.

What do you think of my new car?

What do you think to my new car?

I have wagered that the use of ‘to’ is grammatically incorrect in the second example sentence. I believe it may be in ‘usage’, but it is not correct. Does anyone have any knowledge to share on this matter?

Submitted by Nancy Resnitzky  •  August 19, 2011

Proper use of st, nd, rd, and th — ordinal indicators

Is writing “the August 1 card” correct, or should it be “the August 1st card”? I know July 23rd, 2011 is incorrect but when it comes to the “st”, I’m a confused Canadian. Can you help?

Submitted by Hairy Scot  •  August 1, 2011

Stood down

In the antipodes it is common to use “stood down” as a synonym for suspended, eg - “The Commander of a Navy vessel has been stood down from his position following allegations of “inappropriate” behaviour on a recent port visit.”. But somehow this does not sound right. A person can stand down, ie: resign or give up a post, but I am not sure that it is correct to say a person was stood down. Why not just say “suspended”?

Submitted by isis  •  July 20, 2011

“council” vs. “board”

What is the difference between “council” and “board”?

Submitted by Ken Jr  •  July 8, 2011

Use of “he” for your father

This has become very aggravating for me. I have searched the internet and can find very little about this in a quick reference way. When I was growing up I was taught that when I spoke about a third person and they were present, that I should use their name or their proper reference title (such as Dad, Mom, Grandpa/Grandfather, and especially elders in general) to refer to them at the very least in the first sentence that involves them.

For example as a child if I picked up the phone and my Dad was calling, after I spoke with him he would ask me to pass the phone to my Mom. Knowing full well that my father could hear what I was saying, I would say “Dad is on the phone.” to my mother, NOT “He is on the phone.” as I pass the phone to her. Even though my Mom knew that it was “Dad” whom would be on the phone should I have said “He is on the phone.”, I would never have referred to my Dad as “he” in the first sentence referring to him. I was taught that is very disrespectful. I think the tone taken in such an instance is disrespectful and exclusionary in a sense, but I’m not sure what grammatical rule applies or what it’s called. Can someone help me with this? Thank you for your help.

Submitted by Pam Kline  •  May 16, 2011

wrong, incorrect, bad

I am currently teaching English in Spain and one of my students asked me a question that has left me dumbfounded. How would someone explain the differences between:

Wrong/Right
Incorrect/Correct
Bad/Good

I know what sounds good, but I haven’t been able to find a hard and fast rule.

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