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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 suppose this more of speculation and bit of a question. I have noticed some quotations of ‘nor’ paired with ‘not’ (typically a comma follows not and whatever it is negating), for example:

“Battery D did not stop at the first, nor the second, but halt was made at what was ...”

“These bonds did not give their owners the privilege of using them as a basis for bank-note circulation, nor was there any other privilege...”

“... meaning of its message so clearly, so simply, and yet so earnestly, and with such a passionate longing that from York Hill there should indeed radiate “Peace and good will towards all men,” that not the stupidest nor the most frivolous girl but was touched to a sense of higher ideals and...”

All quotes are provided by dictionary.net in the quotations for ‘nor’.

Is it possible that this could become a correlative conjunction paired with ‘not’ or possibly a substitution for ‘neither’ in the “neither-nor” pair? Or maybe, has ‘not’ been a viable substitute for ‘neither’ for years without notice?

This idea tenuously excites me.

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On ESL websites I sometimes see instructions to students of the type ‘Tell about an experience you had this week’. To me, and I think other speakers of British English, this sounds a bit strange: we normally tell somebody about something or talk about something. I’ve checked six standard British dictionaries and can find no examples of ‘tell about’. My (British) teacher colleagues also find it odd.

At first I tended to put it down to the fact that these instructions were usually written by teachers who are not native speakers. Then I found some examples in American crime writing, and wondered if it could be a dialect thing. But I’m now finding examples in academic texts, and am beginning to assume that this is absolutely standard North American English. This one’s from a Canadian non-fiction book - Be Good, Sweet Maid: The Trials of Dorothy Joudrie - by Audrey Andrews:

“O’Brien asked Dorothy to tell about incidents that were not physical. He prompted her by suggesting she begin by telling about an incident that occurred in Glacier National Park … . She told about how Earl had frightened her to the point of hysteria …” 

This one’s from a book on social psychology -  Knowing People: The Personal Use of Social Psychology -  by Michael J Lovaglia:

“Would people rate the man as less mentally healthy if he kept personal information to himself  than they would if he told about it. They did not. In contrast to the way people rated a woman who told personal information about herself, people rated the man less mentally healthy when he told about his personal problems than when the man kept silent about his personal problems.”

And finally advice for job interviewees at About.com:

“So, when asked to tell about yourself, don’t spend too much time on the predictable answers.”

So I’d just like speakers of North American English to confirm that this use of “tell about something” without a personal object is absolutely standard for you, and speakers of British English (and similar) to confirm that I’m not alone in finding this construction strange, and that you would “tell somebody about something” or “talk about something”. 

Just another example of being “separated by a common language” perhaps.

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How widespread is the misuse of the word “lay”? I’m quite sure one “lies down” and does not “lay down” (except when laying down a carpet, the law or a challenge) This is prevalent in Australia, and I’ve recently found it to be very common in the USA. It irritates me no end...is it in danger of becoming ‘accepted usage’?

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Does that grate on anyone else’s ear? Is there, say, a “simplistic” analysis that is OK, but go a step beyond that and you have “over-simplistic”? Here’s an expert on computing platforms quoted in a NYTimes blog (6 Sep 2013) on Google’s cloud-computing expectations: “It’s an admission that their original vision was over-simplistic....” And that’s hardly a rare instance.

At my current favorite online dictionary, thefreedictionary.com, there’s a note to their definition saying, “Usage: Since simplistic already has too as part of its meaning, it is tautologous to talk about something being too simplistic or over-simplistic.” That doesn’t seem to stop folks from using it, though!

I know there are other similar tautologies in use today, so maybe other posters can bring some up.

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This word has been driving me crazy. Figuratively speaking, I have been having an argument with my Word program about whether the adjective can act attributively or not. The sentence I had was something like this:

“The chary receptionist refused to permit the man into the offices upstairs.”

To begin, my Word program underlines chary with the green squiggle and states adjective [mis]use. I ran it through another grammar checker and it came back as commonly confused words. After a little research, I found that that word was wary. I consulted several dictionaries:

My Concise Oxford English Dictionary: chary- cautiously or suspiciously reluctant.

The dictionary program on my computer: chary- cautiously or suspiciously reluctant to do something.

Wiktionary: chary- Cautious; wary; shy

The first two dictionaries, specifically my computer’s, noted the phrase “chary of”. I then proceeded to see if there was an entry in my Webster’s Usage Dictionary. Luckily it was there, but all that it revealed to me was chary being molded into “chary+preposition”. Receiving no help, I tracked down another site that stated that the difference between wary and chary is “very slight”. However, I returned and checked wiktionary’s quotes and found two of Shakespeare using it in the way that I did but with the word’s superlative form:

“The chariest maid is prodigal enough

If she unmasks her beauty to the moon.”

My first more germane question is are chary and wary interchangeable? Or does chary simple live in the restricted phrase “chary + preposition”. This leads to my second question. Do certain adjectives only live within certain, restricted phrases?

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Here in Kiwiland the word “overbridge” is used when the majority of English speakers would use the word “bridge”. Not sure of the source or the reason for this, and I’ve yet to see an “underbridge”.

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Is there a difference between “further” and “farther”? David Attenborough (age 86, I think) says “farther”. I have never, ever, used that word. What’s the difference, if there is one? My dictionary does not say they are synonyms, but their definitions are identical. “Nothing could be farther from my mind” sounds to me a bit over the top, like saying ‘looking glass’ when you mean ‘mirror’. Views?

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I love to read Victorian era mysteries and novels. Can you tell me the meaning of “ton” as used in that era? By context it appears to refer to members of high society. Is this accurate? What is the origin of the term? Thanks for your help.

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Is there any difference between “bad” and “poor.” I always thought that bad implied a moral tone whereas poor simply implied low quality. Has this ever been true? I now look both words up in the dictionary (AHD and Merriam-Webster) and they are synonyms of one another and carry very similar meanings. Have these two words always been essentially the same in their meaning? Or has popular usage of “bad” made them converge toward one another?

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My evening of horror transpired as follows:

While sharing a bottle of wine with my girlfriend I was stupid enough to posit why it was that I had taken such a huge interest in blues music. 

“Why, because it’s accessible to your mediocre guitar skills,” she said, “and when your skills improve you switch to real music, like classical guitar”.

“Well then, I hope, once your skills improve in belly dance you’ll switch to real dance,”  I responded, “besides it is a misnomer that blues is ‘simple music’!”

Now,  my meaning here was that blues music has been historically labeled and designated as “simple music” in order to mislead people into thinking that African-Americans, from whom the music generated, are not capable of anything complex and so somebody will say, “I love blacks because they play ‘simple music’!”

My girlfriend claims English superiority because she went to college and has been told she has a greater grasp on the language than it’s inventors, so she informed me that I had incorrectly used the word “misnomer”. According to her, what I should have said was that ‘simple music’ was a ‘misconception’ and not a ‘misnomer’. I can see the angle she is coming from and, in all honesty, I barely graduated high school, but I am sure that in this instance I am correct. My point was that blues was “misnamed” or “mislabeled” in order to mislead and not if it is actually simple music (I obviously believe that it is not and I am improving at guitar, so hopefully one day I will be able to tell).

In any case, I am currently sleeping on the couch. Is she correct or is it my “belly dance isn’t real dance” that has me on the couch?

Please help me.

Mr. On the Couch Blues

I beg you not to yell at me about any grammar mistake I may have just made. I finished the bottle of wine by myself and I really just want to be right about this one thing.

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Latest Comments

Resume, resumé, or résumé?

  • SKS
  • July 26, 2016, 6:45pm

I live in Canada and we would be appalled to see "resume" (pronounced here as "re-zoom") as the spelling for something we pronounce as "reh-zoom-ay". Either "resumé" or more correctly "résumé" works for us, and we don't consider the accent(s) poncey or pretentious. Then again, the majority of us also speak French, so accents are pretty normal up here. Perhaps just use "CV" and spare us trying to figure out if you're wanting to begin again or seeking a job. But please don't call us pretentious for using correct spelling. :) While we're at it , what's up with "story" to indicate the number of floors in a building? I guess there really are many stories in the Naked City. But clearly no storeys. I'm American-born but it still drives me nuts to see letters dropped for no discernible reason.

Found this on this website: http://public.wsu.edu/~brians/errors/meeither.html

...Inside a longer sentence, “me either” can be perfectly legitimate: “whole-wheat pie crust doesn’t appeal to me either.” But by itself, meaning “neither do I,” in reply to previous negative statement, it has to be “me neither”: “I don’t like whole-wheat pie crust.” “Me neither.”

what is best for a resume?
Graduate from _______________
High School Diploma from________________

Someone else’s

"Else" can be an adjective or adverb, we can agree. But would it be improper to recognize certain usages as being an indefinite noun, or as a compound noun as in "somewhere" (both an adverb and a noun) as it relates to "somewhere else"? Both are indefinite places, only "somewhere else" is an indefinite place other than the indefinite place referred to as "somewhere". Is one of those more definite than the other? A mathematician using logic and set theory might give a different answer than a grammarian. But either way it seems like a trivial question of no substantive import.
Maybe we can accept variations of syntax and spelling as having a preferred status (according to the source) without the requirement that one form be labeled incorrect from a literary or scholarly perspective. Sure makes life a little easier and less contentious, unless one is obsessively compelled to accept only black-and-white, all-or-nothing single versions, which gets really complicated since most words have more than one definition. The bottom line is whether the message is easily understood by all or most readers, (and whether there are any penalties or adverse consequences which an administrative authority may impose). And if it has the additional factors of consistency and commonly accepted versions, so much the better. Eventually, most languages undergo changes in some way or else another. (I refuse to even try to analyze that usage.)

In 1826 it occurs in print here:
Hearings Before Subcommittee No. 3 of TheCommittee on the Judiciary, House of Representatives, Eighty-first Congress,

as "I'm just saying that this is ridiculous and unfair".

As a stand-alone sentence, possibly about 1936.

http://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/us/de...
identical adjective
BrE /aɪˈdentɪkl/ ; NAmE /aɪˈdentɪkl/

*similar in every detail
*a row of identical houses
*The two pictures are similar, although not identical.
*identical to somebody/something: Her dress is almost identical to mine.
*identical with somebody/something: The number on the card should be identical with the one on the chequebook.
Cheerio! :)

“ask the gays”

Technically the grammar is ok; it is just that by using "the" one almost tends to suggest that all gays are one homogenous group who think alike. There is a discussion about this here:
http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=26223

I'm not at all surprised that no one cited from Oscar Horace's second (1913) publication, "Word and Phrase Sources and Usage: Adjectival and Advebial Etymologies and Preposition Connectors," which he dedicated to his father, Horatio, and his daughter, Amelia.

Horace explains the French usages, as for instance ), "Je suis amoureaux d'Amelia.," of which the English translation is, "I am enamored of Amelia."

He was greatly surprised that, born of the English casual pronunciation of that phrase, an artisan created a tiny glazed bird he called the "Enamor Dove," to be used when words fail the suitor who wants her to be apprised of the depth of his love for her. (In marketing the artisan, at fairs, emphasized that the Enamor Dove exemplifies a a level of courtship that is far beyond the turtle dove stage).

Anyway, the Enamored Dove was oft-bought throughout the British Isles.

And, explains Horace, the product increased the popular usage of "I am enamored of."

Ultimately, Horace's 13 volumes of his word-usage explanations were replaced by more recent books authored by others beginning in the 1880s. Nothing replaced the Enamored Dove, and it was soon forgotten. Foolishly, Horace was against copyrighting and his volumes were not reprised. Libraries, always in need of shelf space, discarded the Horace 13 volumes or stacked them in their basement. Apparently, none of them now exists, either.

Luckily, a friend from Cambridge U, Divad Saratla, visited Washington, DC and was introduced at a party to a huge defensive lineman and they became fast friends. When David learned about his new friend's verbal deficiencies caused by dyslexia, he showed one of the Horace volumes to him, of which the football player became enamored. David gave to him all 13 of the Horace volumes.

I have no idea if any volumes are extant. After years of contacting the usual suspects (forgive me, Sam), and as I now unable to continue, I suppose that Horace's works, to the extent some still may exist, are lodging in a few private homes.

Cheers,
JuTep

Resume, resumé, or résumé?

  • doug
  • July 19, 2016, 6:12pm

Speedwell - I understand "affected overcorrectness" and "we don't use accent marks in English." But it's nice to have a clear difference between "re-zoom" and "rez-oo-may," and the accents clearly eliminate any ambiguity.

Pled versus pleaded

In court, it is common for attorneys and judges to state someone "pled guilty" in the past. I was a criminal prosecutor as well as defense attorney for years and I rarely heard the utterance, "pleaded," in oral discourse. I'm not sure what global marketplace carries more weight than daily use in the courtroom.