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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 seem to have developed a writing tick of using “and so” rather than “therefore” or “accordingly.” I like the flow of “and so,” but I have been discouraged from using it. I’m curious about what others think of “and so.”

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When did we stop “giving” presents, and instead started to “gift” presents?  I was taught that “gift” was a noun and not a verb, but it appears it is now used as the preferred verb to indicate the giving of a gift.

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Is it really proper to say “I graduated high school,” or should it not be, “I graduated from high school?” Previously, I thought only rednecks were able to “graduate high school.”

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Am I the only person in the world who finds the ubiquitous misuse of the verb “reference” to be incredibly annoying? Where did the use of “reference” rather than “refer to” start? I realise that the definition can skirt close to this usage, but I maintain that it is a misuse.

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The word signage seems to keep popping up more and more and it would seem that in the majority of cases it is being used as the plural of sign and increasingly is perceived as a “clever” alternative to that plural. The OED states:

Chiefly N. Amer. Signs collectively, esp. public signs on facia boards, signposts, etc.; the design and arrangement of these.

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Is there a gustative equivalent to the olfactory word “malodour”?

Is there a lexical, not imaginary, word that means anything that tastes bad just like “malodour” means anything that smells bad?

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Any regular rule applicable for those words “make” and “do” while using with some nouns?

  • make war
  • do the homework
  • make a new plan
  • doing my own business

Any rule ladies and gentlemen, or just memorize every case one by one?

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A simple way of distinguishing and using these words accurately:

1. ‘Thus’ means ‘in this/that way’ - it relates to ‘HOW’ - the manner in which - this or that happens or comes about. It has a practical flavour. eg.Traditionally, you arrange things thus = Traditionally, this is how you arrange things

2 .’Therefore’ means ‘for this reason’, or ‘because of this or that’ - it relates to deductive reasoning, it tells WHY this or that is so, or happened. eg. He was late and therefore missed the bus = he was late and for this reason missed the bus

3. ‘Hence’ means ‘from this/that’ - it relates to WHERE - position, or point in time; it tells from where or what, or to where or what, something comes, derives, or goes eg. -i. Get thee hence! = Get yourself away from here! -ii. Henceforth all entrances will be guarded = From now on all entrances will be guarded -iii. She got the job - hence her good spirits = She got the job and her good spirits derive from that fact. (Note the different slant to ‘therefore’, which would also fit, but would say ” her good spirits are due to (’because of’; ‘for that reason’) that”.

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What do you think about using obscure and out-of-use words, such as “ebulliate”? You won’t find it on dictionary.com or even if you google it, but it is in the OED and appears to be a verb-form of “ebullient,” which, of course, is a commonly used word today. My vote was to use it because, hey, it is a word, why confine myself to commonly used words, if we don’t keep up or revive the more obscure words then we’ll lose them forever, and worse, we’ll be overrun by new words being invented not in a smart Joycean fashion but rather inspired by the world of texting and internet chatting fashion. This thought works for phrases like “might could,” too, which I used even though some of your commenters had negative things to say about it.

But my question really is whether it is ok to use obscure words when it’s likely no one knows it/them and unless the reader has access to the OED, which most people don’t, and won’t be able to define it/them, but can probably figure out the meaning from the context of the sentence.

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Is it technically incorrect to use “maybe” in an interrogative sentence? Or to make an indefinite statement (with “maybe” or “perhaps” in it) interrogative?

‘Maybe we just need to add some more salt?’ -- Is it incorrect to use a question mark here? Technically, I guess, it’s a statement, so it shouldn’t take a question mark, but in natural speech it can come across as a question (you’re *asking* if we should use more salt) and a question mark at the end can reflect this. But maybe that’s just plain wrong? (← Like this.)

Actually, that’s not a great example... What I really want to know is whether or not it is always incorrect to use “maybe/perhaps” interrogatively in formal written English.

Any thoughts?

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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.