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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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Can the term ‘self-confessed’ be correct? I read it last week and it’s been bugging me ever since. Surely the only way to confess is to do it personally? Can someone else confess to my crime or secret? The ‘self’ part is redundent.

Then I thought it might come from a police background. If someone is about to be questioned and they confess without any probing I can see how ‘self-confessed’ could make sense, as they were not forced to confess by interrogation. But it still feels like saying ‘cold ice’ to me!

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I’m looking for a phrase or idiom that conveys the same sense of wild goose chase or false lead as a red herring, but that is not placed intentionally. A red herring is necessarily an attempt to mislead. I’m looking for a phrase that can apply if the distraction is unintentional.

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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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Latest Comments

When the preposition 'for' is used with the verb 'advocate' is would mean 'for the benefit of'. Therefore, the sentence 'She advocates for foster children' is grammatically correct while 'He advocates for lower taxes' is NOT grammatically correct as lower taxes is not the beneficiary.

Please note that just because a usage has become widespread, that does not make it grammatically correct. If so, the sentence 'I seen the movie' would be deemed correct.

“she” vs “her”

  • Gloria
  • February 22, 2017, 10:31pm

Just finished reading a novel. Two times the author used "her" when I thought she should have used "she". I was taught that if you continued with the sentence you could test which word is correct.
The author wrote: "No one believed in him more than her. (more than she did.) "But no one thought it more than her." (more than she thought it.)

email me at harambe@idied.com
I dunno

email me at harambe@idied.com
I dunno

Plural of Yes

  • Harambe
  • February 21, 2017, 3:39pm

Help me i dont know what to do B-)

As I answered to my friend, I found below answer is perfect for that,

"what is the position of Jawaharlal Nehru among Indian prime ministers??"

You can use this if you want.

Hope it will help you

X and S

How do I make the name Fox in possessive plural form?
Ex. Ms. Fox' instructional practices... or Ms. Fox's instructional practices...

He was sat

  • Marusja
  • February 17, 2017, 7:04am

I can see that there is a long and diverse discussion on here, but my response is to you Brus, hailing from the British Isles. The epidemic as you rightly describe it, seems to be spreading contagion like from the BBC and into written material. "I was sat" and "we were stood" are examples of colloquial terms from the North of England. Dialects are unique to an area and rich in expression when used in an authentic way and don't appear out of place.

The reason we may be startled by the sudden introduction of such vernacular is due to it simply being out of place when spoken by someone who has been educated in the Queen's English. It rankles because it is wrong in our ears. Unfortunately, this is a legacy of inverted class snobbery whereby some people think that they should downgrade the language in order not to sound 'posh'. It backfires spectacularly though upon them when they try so hard to fit in with the crowd, rather than represent the side of 'well spoken'. I cringe whenever I hear these dialects out of place, not just because of the infringement but also because it doesn't sound beautiful or harmonious, but clumsy.

My mother couldn't speak English when she arrived in the country shortly after WW2. By listening to the radio and armed with a dictionary and the daily newspaper, she taught herself through these mediums. Later she read to us as children and took us to the library, where I inherited a love of the language, reading several books a week by the time I was 7 years old.

Although we lived in the Midlands, I didn't have a regional accent since my exposure early on had been to programmes such as 'Women's Hour' and radio presenters in those days all and without fail spoke to a standard considered appropriate. After all, they were communicating to all and needed to be understood widely.

On passing the eleven plus exam and entering Grammar school, we had a Headmaster and a Head Mistress. Miss Simister had a passion for the English language and heaven forbid any pupil who might drop an H or flatten a vowel. I felt right at home there.

It wasn't about being elite, it was about learning and knowledge. It was about aiming for excellence and drawing out the best in oneself.

Miss Simister would turn in her grave were she to hear the downfall of the language. As someone born and raised in the UK, I can assure you that the standards have slipped considerably. It isn't possible for someone learning the language to be sure that they are being taught English correctly if studying here.

I am not speaking out against dialects as they remain an integral part of our culture. To introduce a convoluted invasion however into received pronunciation is noticeably discordant, drawing attention in the wrong way. It becomes an interruption and tunes out whatever the speaker might be conveying.

There is hope though. Apparently when asked, people do prefer the sublime eloquence of the spoken word as voiced by Joanna Lumley and Diana Rigg, recognizing these dulcet tones to be vehicles of quality, easy on the ear and without question completely trustworthy ambassadors of English in all its glory.

No Woman No Cry

It means, if the woman is gone, there will be no tears. It is a reference to the queen and her rule of Jamaica at the time. It's a political song.

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