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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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.
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?
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.
“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?
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”.
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.”
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.
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.