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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 find myself lately having to resist the compulsion to correct those around me when I hear the term ignorant used in the wrong, ever-persisting way. Example:

“What a loser: he just tripped himself playing soccer!”

“Uggh, jerk, don’t make fun of him! You’re ignorant.”

(sometimes pronounced “ignert” in my local area)

Anyone else happen to run into this problem as frequently as I do?

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If you’ve had 5 annual events in 5 consecutive years, then skip the 6th year, and have the event again the 7th year, do you call it the 6th annual or the 7th annual?

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So i’m a PA & I’ve been having an argument with my boss over the word myriad.

I was under the impression that it stands alone: “there were myriad apples on the fruit-seller’s stall” but he argues that it is correct to say “there was a myriad of apples on the fruit seller’s stall”

What d’you make of that?

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I most often hear this “conjunction set” used in spoken form; it seems redundant. I’m quite sure that “yet” suffices. If indeed “yet” is setting off an independent clause, think a semicolon right before “yet” would be the proper form. Any opinions?

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This misuse of “verbiage” bothered me a lot from when I first heard it. I worked for a computer company then in the mid-1980s and one day several engineers (programmers) at a meeting called various papers “verbiage”. The papers were marketing reports, technical proposals and the like, all prose. It had long been clear that these engineers disliked reading anything more than a short paragraph long, and now their contempt for written language was evident, too. They assumed “verbiage” meant “written language” and because they used it indiscriminately for long documents as well as short ones, it was also apparently they didn’t know “verbiage” only meant excessive or poorly written documents, or sometimes long, tedious documents without interest. “I looked at the verbiage”, they’d say, “and the verbiage from IBM is a little better.” Or, “I think our verbiage should reflect we avoid spaghetti programming.” Their tone, facial expressions and irritated manner left no question of their feelings. Soon it seemed thousands of people misused the word “verbiage” as they did, and later probably millions. I hear it less because I no longer work in a corporation.

Your opinions, please?

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I hear this word more and more, usually to describe music, singing and writing. From the 1950s to about 2000, “edgy” meant “compelling”, “provocative”, often “defiant” or “questioning”, “obviously important” and sometimes dangerous, or nearly so, as it is to walk on a ledge, or near the edge of a rooftop. For example, Bob Dylan’s songs have always been called “edgy”, same as Kurt Cobain’s or Lou Reed’s. Part of edginess is nonformist, and challenging the status quo. Jon Cage would be considered edgy, while Leonard Bernstein would not. “Edgy” usually seems to mean “original”, too. You could call Chris Rock cool and provocative, sometimes, but not usually edgy, as Dave Chappelle is edgy. ---- All right. Is that still what most of you mean by “edgy”? Lately there seems to be a growing connotation of “originality”, too. For example, it’s hard to be “edgy” with even slightly older styles, subjects or forms of singing, composing music or writing short stories or novels. What do you think?

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I am getting tired of hearing MASSIVE every five minutes of my life. Usually it is used to mean extra heavy, sometimes just big, e.g. a massive storm hit the Carolinas, or a massive thought. It is overdone.

In addition, I am used to it meaning really TINY. For example, the electron is a massive object; the photon is a massless object. This comes from the idea (that I was taught) that massive means having mass, which means >0 mass. So the proton and the electron are each massive, both having >0 mass. Yet each is smaller than a microscope can see.

Can anyone shed light on how this word—used so often—has come to mean really big?

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What is the correct usage of causative and causal? If, for example, you want to describe the etiological agent of a disease, would you call it a “causative agent” or a “causal agent”?

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I have noticed dozens of examples of people, mainly on the Internet, typing the word “loose” when what they really mean is “lose.” For instance, “I didn’t want to loose the car keys.” Do you know when or how this annoying mistake came to be? It seems like it has only been going on for the past year or so, but it could be longer.

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A friend has issue with the use of “fetch” used to mean “go get someone.” She referred to its association with having a dog “fetch” something as being offensive: “it is not okay to use a word commonly known for a dog retrieving a bone to refer to a human being - period.” And also hinted its use as being inappropriate in a professional/office setting.

The definition i have says: “go for and then bring back (someone or something)” and says nothing at all about it being a dog trick. Also interesting that someone is listed before something.

What do you say?

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Latest Comments

Overhead yesterday in a coffee shop:
Customer: Excuse me; I was wondering if I could trouble you for a side salad.
Waitress: Side salad?

Slight mismatch of styles!

How should a waiter or bartender address a customer?
"Do you want .........................?"
"Would you like.....................?"

When you say, "Can I get..?" in the UK, it's generally considered a f**king rude Americanism. Happy Thanksgiving, though.

She and her father look alike
Her and her father look alike

age vs. aged

Which is correct? aged 45 years or over OR aged 45 years or more


Your apology is noted.


Although the addition of "got" may not follow the strictest syntax rules I believe it's use can be justified here because it serves as an intensifier that emphasizes the need to act is greater than the use of "have" alone connotes.
Also, when the contraction "I've" is used then the addition of "got" improves the word structure sonically by preserving the normal rhythm of a sentence because the contraction works as a single word that serves as the noun, or rather, pronoun of the sentence and leaves a need for another verb.

@WW Sorry, I assumed 'cacography' was just a made-up word - it's all Greek to me ;}

@jayles - OK, let's deal with cacography first. Yes, literally, in Greek, it means what you say, and that seems to be the standard dictionary definition, but it also seems to have taken on a new meaning, at least in linguistics:

"Cacography is deliberate comic misspelling, a type of humour similar to malapropism ... A common usage of cacography is to caricature illiterate speakers." Wikipedia.

Languages are creative like that, giving new meanings to adopted words, and so HS was perfectly correct.

You ask HS why he is resorting to Greek. But I could also ask why these (for me, at least) weird Anglish-inspired words have been noticeably creeping back into your own comments recently ("spider-dread" - come on, get real!). For me they have even less to do with natural English than Greek loan words, and I very much doubt that "normal people" have much time for them either.

English is a glorious mix - and I relish it. I have no objection to keeping things simple, but personally I hate this idea of language purism as much as I hate pedantry. Leave the language alone, it's just fine as it is!

I wouldn't have mentioned this if you hadn't brought the subject up :). And as for Stephen Fry, he has made one of the best commentaries on English I've ever seen:

mixing semicolon and em dash

Not an answer, but a comment on the use of dashes in British English. As far as I know BrE doesn't talk much about em-dashes, for example you won't often see -- (substituting for an em-dash) from British contributors to forums etc. We simply use a dash, in writing the same length as a en-dash, (but on a computer just using a single hyphen), and we put spaces either side - like that, for example. And they don't seem to be used nearly as much as in American English.

From one website on British grammar:

'The double dash encloses supplementary information in the same way as round brackets –
"Alaska – purchased from Russia in 1867 and granted statehood in 1959 – comprises some 586,000 square miles and 624,000 people."
But brackets are preferred in formal scripts.'

This is from the Chicago Manual of Style Online:

"note that it is also the common British practice to use an en dash with a word space on either side where American publishers would use an em dash closed up to the surrounding words"

But I've noticed that the Economist has recently started using M-dashes without gaps. In the online version they are obviously M-dashes, and there's no real problem, but in the print edition they don't seem to be as wide. This is really confusing my students (and me, to be honest), who think they are hyphens, reading the two separate words as one hyphenated word. It turns out that Polish, like British English always uses gaps. I'm beginning to wonder about other European languages. WW will have to investigate!