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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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What does “tooing and frowing” mean? And why these words cannot be found in any dictionary (at least in those I looked at?) Is it a corruption of “to and fro?” Is “frowing” a word and could it be used separately and if so would it mean differently than that of the phrase?

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If Hillary Clinton is elected as the president of the US, what should Bill Clinton be called? I’ve seen both “first husband” and “first gentleman.” Wikipedia seems to think that it should be the latter.

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Is this correct? As in “in response to some of the most problematic issues of nowadays business”? To me it sounds strange, although it seems to have a couple hundred entries in Google. I’d opt for “today’s business”.

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When we say, “Don’t mind if I do,” what is the subject we are omitting? Is it:

I don’t mind if I do.

or

You don’t mind if I do.

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My children frequently say they did something, or someone else did something “on accident,” where I would say “by accident.” The “on” version not only sounds wrong to me, but it makes no semantic sense (what about the normal meaning of “on” could make it appropriate here?), but despite my having corrected them many times, they persist in this usage, which suggests it is entrenched in their subculture (Southern California Public Schools). I also came across the “on accident” form on the web recently. Is this idiom taking over? Would anyone care to defend it, or to suggest how it might have originated?

Also, as a college teacher in Southern California I have noticed a construction that might be related in quite a few student essays. This is “study on,” where I would just write “study.” For example: “Galileo studied on astronomy for many years.” Admittedly, this almost always occurs in essays that are poorly written in all sorts of other respects, but it is clearly not a simple mistake, as it occurs quite frequently, sometimes several times in the same paper. Clearly it is done intentionally. (Perhaps it is worth adding that many of my students are Hispanic and bilingual in Spanish and English. Could it be that “study on” reflects some construction or idiom in Spanish? Could that be the case for “on accident” too?)

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I’ve just come from a thread debating the relative correctness of “all of a sudden” vs “all the sudden” and would like to submit another evolving phrase that annoys me:

Use of “a couple... ” in lieu of “a couple of...”. “A couple drinks”, or whatever. While I find the question of “all of a sudden” vs “all of the” merely interesting, with this one I am inclined to assume laziness.

Any thoughts?

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To me, “and how...” is one of those phrases that trails off when the responder doesn’t have much left to say about a certain statement (e.g. “times like these...”, etc.). I know it is to emphasize or strongly agree with a statement that has just been made, but when you think of it literally, it doesn’t make too much sense. Can anyone explain?

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If Methodology means “they study of different methods” (in the same idea as Biology or Geology) then why do people always say “Let me explain our methodology” instead of just saying “Let me explain our methods”?

Am I wrong or do I have the right to be annoyed!

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So someone I work with is giving me hell about the word “unforecasted.” Microsoft’s built-in dictionary doesn’t recognize it, and I’ve checked a couple of on-line dictionaries to no avail. However, a Google search shows relatively common usage in business, defense, and academic writings. I stand by it - it sounds correct to my ears and it seems to alleviate a void in nuance that is not filled by unanticipated, unpredicted and the like.

Can anyone validate or refute my stance?

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I’m interested in the origins of “I’m just saying” used postpositively. (Also its variant: “I’m not saying, I’m just saying.”) An example: “Have you ever noticed how many people end statements with qualifiers? I’m just saying.” It seems to be an update of “With all due respect,” or perhaps something I’m not thinking of. Is it an East Coast expression? I’m from California and have never heard it in speech, but have noticed it frequently in blog titles and posts.

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Latest Comments

Salutations in letters

In email to someone familiar, I open with "Hi" and sign off with "Cheers" or "Slàinte mhath". Otherwise I use "Good day" and "Regards".
In letters it's normally "Dear ......" and "Yours sincerely".
I agree that "Yours truly" and "Yours faithfully" now seem to be considered passé.

How about, "The rent has doubled.", or "The rent is now twice what it was."
Both "two times higher" and "two times as high" sound like phrases used by primary school kids.

Trust me, when you get to my age, mid 60s, you will start complaining when you hear words spoken which you have grown up with all your life, being given totally different meanings and you are supposed to calmly accept these new meanings without having a clue why they have been changed. If someone comes up to me and says hey as a greeting, then for me I am waiting for them to finish. Even when I just hear it in plays or films, it makes me feel very uncomfortable. I'm not writing here to say it's right or wrong just to make folk understand that it can be very unsettling for some of us.

The team has access to multiple sources

On Tomorrow

  • JBS
  • January 16, 2017, 2:22pm

This is an old world English term sometimes trapped in areas of Appalachia, like many other old German, Scottish, Irish and English phrases (or variations thereof). It's commonly used among religious African American folks in Georgia and Alabama from my experience. The reason so many comments have referenced NE Georgia, Kentucky, and North Carolina etc.. is the Appalachian connection.

An extension of solecism?

Actress instead of Actor

I have long found referring to both male and female thespians as "actors" extremely distasteful, as in PC gone amok. When I waited tables, I had no problem with the term "waitress." Then again, I have no problem with the term "comedienne" for a female comedian. The stewardess/steward thing which is now deemed offensive seems patently absurd to me, but well, "flight attendant" it is! However, reading all the comments with historic connotations does help me make a bit more sense of it all. Personally, I have no problem with the masculine and feminine forms of words/professions, and in fact I do buck against changing all of that, but appreciate the perspectives offered. I totally get that a female MD is not called a doctoress in English, but she would be called "la doctora" in Spanish, and a male "el doctor."

Usually a brand name or a play on words, used in advertising. Like the old pop brand, "Hi Klas" rather than "Hi Class" I want to say what that is called. Would an advertising agency know, I wonder? Or a college course in advertising maybe?

Pronunciation: aunt

I'm Mexican native American from Los Angeles California and I use Ant not aunt but I have heard my cousins say aunt before. Personally I prefer ant.

In general, the noun/verb distinction is accurate, but not completely so.

If I were a lobbyist, I might say "I advocate lower taxes."

But if the Republican Party retained me (with or without pay) as an advocate for lower taxes, I could say "I am an advocate (noun) for the Republican Party" or "I advocate (verb) for the Republican Party."