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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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One of our regular contributors, porsche, informed me that submitting a comment redirects you to Microsoft’s website. Sorry about that. I keep track of the IP addresses of Spammers, and I send all the spammers to Microsoft’s website. I recently moved the site to a different server, and the new server was returning the same IP address for everyone, and I ended up listing that IP address as a Spammer’s. And, so the site considered everyone who commented as a Spammer. That’s what happened.

But that’s a long, boring, technical story, and what matters is that it’s working fine now.

Thank you, porsche, for informing me of this problem. If anyone ever experience any problems like this on this site, please let me know.

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I’m editing a technical manual. The engineers I’m working with have regularly typed amounts which are under one as “.05 inches” or “.67 inches.”

I’ve been of the opinion that this is to be typed “.05 inch” and “.67 inch,” as the amounts are less than one, but I can’t find anything to support either opinion.

Please advise.

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I suppose these questions are frequently preceded by an argument between one regarded as a pedant and another who is one secretly. I’m the pedant. Are these words pronounced so similarly as to be only identifiable by their context? For instance ‘a dentist works orally’ or ‘I am to give an oral presentation.’ This can lead to ambiguity (if they are pronounced the same): ‘I can only learn a language aurally/orally.’

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The closest word I can think of is “semi-daily,” but that is too specific. I’d prefer to describe, using a single word, the frequency of a particular event that happens more than once per day, although the number times is not significant and is not always the same.

If this is a rare opportunity for someone to make up a word, I welcome a suitable word from someone who is more qualified than I to create such a word.

Any ideas?

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... to describe a phrase where all words begin with the same letter?

Sally sells seashells at the sea shore..

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Does anybody know if there’s a term for inserting a word in to another word, particularly swear words? For example: Fam-damn-ily, or Ri-goddamn-diculous?

My roommate and I have scoured all of our grammar books and literary dictionaries, but to no avail. Any thoughts?

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There are many words in the English language which allegedly have no rhyme. I was wondering if there is a term to denote rhyme-less words (i.e. orange, silver...)?

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Is there a word or phrase that describes a vital process that is necessary to maintain a system or operation but is seldom thought about or considered.

For instance, the heart pumps blood but a healthy person doesn’t necessarily think about it as he/she goes about doing things.

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I have run into a slight dispute at work regarding the following statement and the context is travel insurance.

“The company will not reimburse for any additional cover beyond that already extended”

There then follows a short list of 3 or 4 items such as health insurance, life cover, baggage.

1. I interpreted the statement as follows: The company would not reimburse for cover that was additional in the specific categories already noted. For example increasing the amount of life cover would be such a case where no reimbursement would be paid. However I interpreted the statement as meaning that if the requested reimbursement was for insurance that was not in one of these noted areas i.e. had not already been ‘extended’ then a claim would be valid. In hindsight I feel that I have used the ability to possibly twist the interpretation into a situation where a modest claim for personal liability insurance cover of £70 (which was not a listed item) will be rejected.

2. 2 colleagues thought that the meaning was simple - no reimbursement for ANY additional cover. I can see this point but if that was what was intended why did the statement not just read ‘ The company will not reimburse any additional cover’?

Any ideas or somewhere where I can gather some opinions? BTW I am more interested in the principal and ensuring the correct wording for others in future than the actual claim.

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Responding to an old post (see below) I was under the impression that there were several kinds of Persian: Farsi, Dari, etc. If we use the word Persian, how does someone know to which one we are referrring? I have seen it written as Persian (Farsi) to make that clear. Is there a cultural reason why Persian is preferable?

Khodadad Rezakhani Mar-19-03 3:28AM Something I want to ask you to bring into attention. English has its own names for other languages: Eliniki is called Greek, Deutsch is German, and so on. About the name of the language of Iran: the English name is Persian, a correct name based on the rules of English. However, there has been a wide use of the word Farsi in main stream media (and even the computer world). Farsi is the local name for the language, and as we don’t say “I speak Espanol” when conversing in English, we shan’t say Farsi either. Please point out this matter in your weblog.

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Latest Comments

“go figure”

IMHO "go figure" is right up there with "do the math" on the list of sayings to be avoided at all times.


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: