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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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Does anyone know who first used the expression “retail therapy”. How would one go about finding the first time this expression was published?

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I’m German, but work in an American company. So the expression “Hi all” is pretty popular as a salutation for email messages. Now, an American English native speaker told me that this is Southern accent, and I should use “Hi everybody” instead. (same with “Dear all”)

What do you think?

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Is it correct to say “over exaggerate”? or is exaggeration by nature already over emphasizing? Surely you either exaggerate or you don’t? It just drives me mad when people say this all the time!

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So I am a university English Lit student of about three years, and I have to admit, I don’t exactly know the meaning of this phrase. I came across it while reading “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” and was reminded how much this phrase has always annoyed me, because I have a general idea of what it means, but couldn’t specifically define it. I am also curious as to where this phrase originated from. Any ideas?

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I recently used the phrase (?) “thisclose.” A friend asked me what it’s called when the literal writing matches the meaning. Is there a word for that? What is it?

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What does it mean when someone says you have cow eyes? I’ve heard a bunch of answers but I don’t know which is right. I have been told it means:

- Your eyes kind of stick out (like Steve Buscemi) - Your eyes are different colors (I guess this is common among cows? I know it’s common among certains dogs and cats) - Your eyes have a sad look to them (cause cows look sad?) - You have a stare that suggests you are “hot to trot” - You have a blank, empty stare.

Any ideas what this really means?

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Does a phrase exist (english or other) that describes a situation in which something that normally would not occur takes place, solely because the circumstances surrounding it (themselves possible anomolies) make it possible.

Example: A “perfect storm” can take place because wind speeds reach the correct speed at the correct moment, water temperatures are at the right temperature at the correct time, etc., etc.

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as dry as a bone as cold as ice as sick as a dog as wet as ??? a fish? water? what’s right?

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Am I not right in thinking that the phrase “discussion forum”, as often used to refer to bulletin boards on websites, is a tautology?

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I have heard the expression “Ha Ha, charade you are” in the pink floyd song pigs, and also in a southpark episode. In the episode cartman used it like you would use the phrase “touchee” in an argument. Does anyone have any input as to what this phrase means and an example of using it.

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Latest Comments

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."

A mouse is a mouse and mice are mice - whether electronic or furry !

To report “there is an accident just prior to the Erindale Rd turn-off” is correct from the perspective of the listener, who judges distances in time as well as linear distance. A driver thinks in terms of duration between landmarks, and may be as likely to consider an exit 2 miles away as 2 minutes away.

Resume, resumé, or résumé?

Sorry to correct Jun-Dai, however "anyways" is not an English word!