October 27, 2006  •  cameron

impression vs. impersonation

Impression or impersonation? I do not understand how “impression” has come to mean “imitation” as in “This is my impression of Marlon Brando.” “Impersonation” seems to be the better choice in this situation, but it seems that these two words are used interchangeably. I understand how “impression” can refer to the process of duplication in situations like taking an impression of one’s credit card, but I wonder if “impression” is misused as substitute for “impersonation” in other cases. Any thoughts?

September 22, 2006  •  lawrence

Neologisms, altered or lost meanings, and lexical monsters

The inventiveness of English-speakers can be wonderful. The other day I discovered “advismentor,” a word that seems to me to be witty and useful. We know at once what it means, and it extends the words “advisor/adviser” and “mentor” a bit, in (what I consider) a charming way. Let us adopt it forthwith. But...the purists, pedants and fussy traditionalists have some valid points, IMHO. Inventions and changes can be stupid, unimaginative and ignorant. There are neologisms -- and new meanings and uses for old words -- that contribute nothing but lexical pollution. Take, for example, a pet peeve of mine: the use of “parameter” to mean limit or setting. “Parameter” does not mean that; look it up, and see whether you can understand its real meaning. I can’t, so I don’t use the word. Many academics love junk words like this -- they consider them shibboleths that proclaim erudition and intellect. Hmpf! Congress should outlaw the abuse of “parameter,” even among computer enthusiasts. Others: first we had “contact,” and then “to contact.” Not good. Then we had monstrosities like “to channelize,” “to compartmentalize,” and other -izes, which are all obvious rubbish. “Enormity” lost its trenchant meaning and became a silly, needless synonym for “huge size.” The hideous trend continued with “to critique,” a stinker if ever there was one. The British, stupidly ignoring Fowler/Burchfield, decided to write “all right” as “alright,” a zany error that seems somehow to go well with their penchant for those hilarious unattached participles. I don’t know when people started using “if” to mean “whether,” a nasty bit of illogic and confusion that seems to have escaped English instructors the world over. Now (gag!) we have “to text,” another tellingly ignorant error. Like the intolerable verbal tics “you know,” “like,” and “I mean,” these lexical monstrosities are expressions considerate people avoid. After all, one does not join friends for lunch, and then pick one’s nose after finishing the soup, now does one? Change -- the new -- is not always bad. That does not mean the bad is ever anything but bad, period. Usage born of sheer ignorance does not have my respect, though I do not doubt that over generations, many egregious alterations of English managed to shed the stigma of illegitimacy. Heavy sigh.....

September 20, 2006  •  dima

Amount of people

This is one that a good portion of the population is guilty of. I hear plenty of people use “amount” while referring to discrete objects, such as cars or people. (Yes, I just called people objects.) I don’t remember actually learning this rule, but I have always used “amount” while referring to things that do not easily separate into countable parts, such as water, sand, courage, experience, etc. It seems to me that “number of people” (or some other phrase, depending on context) should be used instead. I understand that there are cases where this can get confusing (”amount of time” but “number of minutes”), but I think it’s never okay to use “amount” with something that is thought of as a collection of separate objects. Am I crazy? Does this make anyone else cringe? I don’t think I made this rule up, but I will concede that it’s a possibility.

September 17, 2006  •  janmorgan

First annual vs. second annual

If the initial year an event is held it is called the inaugural, what is it called the next year? First annual or second annual? And why?

September 13, 2006  •  Dyske


Why is the word “quarters”, to mean a place of residence, plural? When we say, “I’ll show you to your quarters,” we mean a room. So, why don’t we simply say, “I’ll show you to your quarter,” without the ‘s’? There are some nouns that take a plural form but they are not actually plural, like “means”, when we say, “a means to an end”. However, I do not think this is the case with “quarters”. Otherwise, we would say, “a quarters”. (I did find a few instances of this on the web.) How did the word, which means one fourth of something, come to be used as a place of residence in the first place? My wife suggested that it came perhaps from quarters (corner sections or rooms) of a castle, but if this were the case, each room would be a quarter, and there would be no need for the plural ‘s’.

September 11, 2006  •  horia

optimiSe or optimiZe ?

I have found both terminations in verbs like optimiz(s)e, prioritiz(s)e, criticis(z)e. Which (or when, or where) is the academically correct form ?

July 24, 2006  •  dave2

as best he can

On the matter of “as best he can”, hasn’t that been misused consistently by newscasters who toss to a reporter to give us the story “as best he can”, when they really mean “as well as he can”. To me, “as best he can” implies that he can do it best, better than anyone else, in other words, “as he can, best of all”. It seems to me that they really intend to suggest that the reorter will do the best they can (judging from the context of their introduction, which often implies that the story is still unfolding and not yet completely understood).

May 23, 2006  •  jinmvanb

that vs. who

It seems like it happens more and more. Few [TV] reporters use phrases such as: . . . after talking to the local people that work in that plant, . . .etc., etc. Why the use of the ‘that’ instead of ‘who’ as I was taught for the correct grammar. Another one: . . . it was John that broke the news about the bribery . . . etc., etc. Is it an “exceptional” rules that when reporting (hence, verbal statement as opposed to written) it is acceptable the use of ‘that’?

May 4, 2006  •  Dyske


In sentencing of the terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui, Judge Leonie Brinkema said the following: “Mr. Moussaoui, you came here to be a martyr in a great big bang of glory, but to paraphrase the poet T.S. Eliot, instead you will die with a whimper.” Is this an appropriate use of the word “paraphrase”? I understood “paraphrase” as using different words to elaborate or simplify the original statement. In the above usage, she is using Eliot’s exact words.

April 25, 2006  •  jimvanb

Actress instead of Actor

According to the dictionary, Actor simply refers to “person” who acts, . . . etc. While Actress, specifically refers to the female side. Since when (and when is appropriate) the use of Actor to refers to BOTH male or female “action person”? This is not political, is it? Is it a “woman movement thingie”? Is it a similar “situation” to the word: Director not being distinguishable as to the gender of that person? Anyone for Directress (female director)?, contractor - contractress, prosecutor - prosecutress, exterminator - exterminatress, etc., etc.

April 7, 2006  •  jivy


I’m in law school and I have a professor who keeps using the word “transcendence” to refer to a self-less lawyer, who puts his clients first. This kills me! He doesn’t know the definition of transcendence. Doesn’t transcendence mean to be on a higher plain mentally, almost like a state of nirvana? Yes, transcendence means to be above the self, but does it have anything to do with putting others before yourself? ALTRUISM is the term my professor should be using. Altruism means to put others before oneself. This professor has received many awards and is recognized a pioneer in legal ethics. I find it astonishing that no one has corrected him. He’s built his entire curriculum, which is being adopted by other law schools, on the wrong term! Am I right?

March 31, 2006  •  stevem

Reference, refer.

Does anyone else find it annoying that reference is being used, more and more, as a verb? When people say things like “He’s referencing our trip to the mall” it really annoys me. It seems like they simply do not know that reference already has a verb form “refer.” Does anyone else have any thoughts on this?

February 27, 2006  •  sara

Title vs. Entitle

I like to think I’m pretty swell at English grammar, punctuation, and usage, etc. But there’s at least one thing I have never gotten down, and that is, when do you use “title” versus “entitle.” For example, would I write: “She read a book titled ---”? Or is it “She read a book entitled ---”? In what circumstances would either one be used?

December 18, 2005  •  Dyske

First Generation vs. Second Generation

When speaking of American people with respect to immigration, I had always assumed that “First Generation” meant the people who were born elsewhere and immigrated to this country. “Second Generation” in this sense means those who were born in the US from these “First Generation” parents. But recently I started hearing people use them the other way around. They call those who were born in the US, “First Generation”, because they are the first generation to be born in this country. Which is correct?

December 14, 2005  •  gandalf

____ and he?

Just now someone asked me if it was proper, in her essay about Prospero, to say that “He and Ariel . . .” Her question was about whether to use ‘he’ or ‘him’, but it made me wonder. In formal writing I might intuitively switch the order to “Ariel and he . . .” to parallel “___ and I”, but is it actually any more formal? In less formal writing, I prefer to ignore the I rule altogether and list whoever comes to mind first or is most important. It’s a silly rule anyway. ^_^

December 4, 2005  •  joannaceleftheriou

Much different

Since returning to the US, the phrase “much different” has come to my attention by grating on my ear. The way I see it, different is not a comparative adjective like “better” or “taller” and you can’t use “much.” “Really” and “very” only. Comments?

September 30, 2005  •  katden

subconscious vs unconscious

I have always been taught that subconscious was used when talking about the parts of your psyche that you are not aware of - “the subconscious mind” and that unconscious was a physical condition - “knocked unconscious” Lately I have been hearing people interchange the two; most of the time it is someone using “unconscious” in place of “subconscious”. Am I confused here? Are they interchangable?

September 28, 2005  •  sam

“Big of a”

This has always irked me, as prior to communicating with Americans on the internet, I’d never heard expressions such as “it’s not that big of a deal” - what is wrong with “it’s not that big a deal”? What is the extra “of” there for? It just sounds so awkward and out of place... is there a good reason for it? Is it even correct English?

September 28, 2005  •  joe2

Idea Vs. Ideal

Why do people say they have an Ideal instead of an Idea, which is correct?

September 28, 2005  •  dan

website or web site

Websters says it’s two words.

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