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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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The first time I heard the phrase “went missing” was a few years while watching a national news broadcast. The new reporter interviewed a midwestern sheriff about the case of a missing girl. He said she “went missing eight days ago”. I assumed it was a colloquialism (and very poor grammar). Now I hear it and read it quite frequently. Where did this strange expression come from? How can someone “go” missing? Shouldn’t it be “disappeared”? Or perhaps, “has been missing”?

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It sounds to me as if this term is descended from “What it is”, a Black-American expression that goes back to the 1960s. Then it meant, “It’s part of The System”, or “It’s just part of how African-Americans have to live in the USA”, implying restriction, being the object of racism and prejudice, and adopting a philosophical and pragmatic way of living under pressure. “What it is” seemed to come from late 1960s black culture, including the Black Panthers, so-called “soul music” and more. It might come from a song. I only heard black people say it, never anyone else, and it was an expression of positive resignation, as if it also meant, “We can’t change that but we will move forward anyway.” Now, 45 years later, “It is what it is”, sounds like a more vague descendent. I think it’s weaker and less compelling because it sounds artificial, as if a movie screenwriter created it. Again, I dislike the vagueness of it, especially because wen people say it, they seem to imply it explains something, which it does not. It seems to be a weak vulgar shrug uttered by those who don’t know what else to say, and are baffled or confused themselves. I’d accept it from African-Americans, who might catch a subtlety or a meaning I don’t. But now I’ve heard it from 2 highly educated white friends, and it sounds phony coming from them. WHAT DOES IT MEAN AND IS IT EVER VALID OR WORTHWHILE?

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Are you writers aware of time? More and more often I read about a character staring at another character for several moments. If you mean several brief time periods, try using seconds. It’s much more powerful and precise. For example, “the angry client stared at the well-dressed bank manager for several seconds”. That’s believable and many of us have experience glaring at someone for several seconds. But if you use several “moments” in that phrase it just sounds endless and wrong and inaccurate. Who holds eye contact for several “moments”? Unless it’s a prelude to a kiss, someone is sure to walk away before several moments are up.

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I’m curious as to the origin of the phrase “...not that there’s anything wrong with that.”

I have a vague recollection of hearing it for the first time -- possibly in a comedian’s act? -- many years ago, clearly in the context that it now seems to ubiquitously have: a reference to homosexuality. For the life of me, I cannot recall who it was I first heard say this. I do seem to recall that it was long before Seinfeld made it popular.

Does anyone else have a similar memory?

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Normally, I would say “Williams had 4 singles for the day,” but many sportscasters use “ON the day” instead. Does anyone know the origin of this use? The editor of an online baseball encyclopedia had no idea, so I’m not sure where to go for an answer.

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I’m a new editor and am confused about the use of “condition”. If it is used to describe a strict experimental condition, is only “on condition that” can be used, but not “under the conditions of”? A senior editor tells me that the latter can not be used to describe experimental conditions, and if one really wants to use it, he/she should change the prep. into “on”. However, there is no such saying as “on the conditions that” in a dictionary(Longman). Looking forward to correct explanation.

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This Japanese program claims that Peter Pan regularly killed children when they grew too old. Here is the paragraph from the original book by James Matthew Barrie:

All wanted blood except the boys, who liked it as a rule, but to-night were out to greet their captain. The boys on the island vary, of course, in numbers, according as they get killed and so on; and when they seem to be growing up, which is against the rules, Peter thins them out; but at this time there were six of them, counting the twins as two.

The controversial phrase here is “thins them out”. How would you interpret it?

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Since I’ve moved to North Carolina I have heard many people say “Cut on/off” the power or lights or any electronic device, and I’m very curious as to why.

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Could you please tell me what it means if someone calls you “green eyes”, but you don’t actually have green eyes.

We’re trying to figure out if it means envy/jealousy, being temperamental, or something else?

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My local Public transport company has started delivering recorded messages on the train platform “Please be advised that patrons must wait till the train has come to a complete stop before crossing the yellow line”. I find this message completely grates on me, and I suffer it each time I wait on the train platform for my train.

“Please” is a polite request for me to take some form of action. I have a choice. I can comply with the request or I can refuse the request.

If an instruction is given to me with the precursor “Please be advised” then I am presented with a fait accompli and have no opportunity to decide whether I will comply with the request or not. It is not, in fact, a request in any form and does not provide the recipient with any capacity to dismiss or refuse the request. For this reason, I consider it to be manglish.

Can you confirm that “Please be advised” is manglish?

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Latest Comments

Most-Populous vs. Most-Populated

You would not hyphenate "most-populous" just as you wouldn't hyphenate "she is the most popular girl in school." You would however hyphenate something like "Honolulu is an ultra-populous urban epi-center."

Really cute website. Very clever.

Actress instead of Actor

As far as I am concerned females who act are actresses, as was always known in the past. I disagree with Whooping Goldberg. An actress can play any role as needed, there is no need for her to be called an actor. This is similar to calling the chairman, " the chair", absolutely unnecessary, what is wrong with madam chairman? A chair is something one sits on!

Resume, resumé, or résumé?

Sorry Jun-Dai, but you are wrong, If we are going to use accents, let's use the ones that make sense. In current English resumé is pronounced REH-zue-MAY. There is no need for the accent ague on the first e, because that would indicate it should be pronounced RAY, not REH. My personal preference is to avoid these accents carried over from the French original, as we do for cafe. Another way to avoid the issue, in a document title for example, is to use all caps when appropriate, such as RESUME; then in even for proper French spelling no accents are required. Finally, don't take my word for it: per Wiktionary: "In Canada, resumé is the sole spelling given by the Canadian Oxford Dictionary; résumé is the only spelling given by the Gage Canadian Dictionary (1997 edition)." Oxford rules for those who wish to speak and write English; Americans are welcome to use their Webster's as long as they keep it south of the border.

Typo in previous entry; typed fact instead of facet. :)

That was a somewhat petulant and insulting post.
I am certainly not trying issue you with any fiats or diktats, but merely pointing out that there are those of us whose views differ from yours.
You are of course entitled to your opinions, as am I.
I also like to question many things; among these are the way our language has been and is being bastardised and the laissez faire attitudes of those who consistently trumpet the dubious virtues of common usage.
As for my education being founded in a "Victorian" view; that premise is not even worthy of comment, let alone discussion.
I do not cling unquestioningly to any fact of the English language, but it does seem that there are those like yourself who are quite happy to see the language sullied in support of common usage.

What is the "chronological position" of man Mohan Singh as a prime minister

people like she/he are...

The word "like" is a preposition, and the pronoun is its object. Objects take the accusative case: 'him', 'her', etc.
The correct form of the pronoun is 'her.'

people like she/he are...

The word "like" is a preposition, and the pronoun is its object. Objects take the accusative case: 'him', 'her', etc.
The correct form of the pronoun is 'her.'

Computer mouses or computer mice?

  • antoine
  • October 14, 2016, 11:59am