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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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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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There’s an expression from the Southern United States that has always bugged me and it is “might could” which means may be willing and/or able to do something in the future. It is used like this:

“Are you going to do it?” “I’m not sure but I might could.”

Despite being bad grammar and redundant, my question is what is the correct response? Both the phrases, “I’m not sure but I might.” or “I’m not sure but I could.” just sound strange to me. Is the only way to use a longer phrase like, “I’m not sure but I might be willing to do it later.”

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What does it mean when someone states that they were “read the riot act” or that THEY read someone else “the riot act”? Is there such a thing as a Riot Act. I haven’t been able to locate information on this.

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“For all it’s worth” or “for all its worth”?

e.g. He rolled the R for all it’s worth.

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Latest Comments

hanged vs. hung

I'm an antiquarian. I want my careful (though defective, of course) education to matter. Should my position have any legitimacy? I think it has always been a strong motivation for those who resist linguistic change; and sloppiness has always been a pressing reason for it.

No Woman No Cry

I thought it mean if a boy don't involve themself with girl , they won't ever get hurt and you know won't never cry .

People use it a lot it hurts!
a sarcastic example would be by singing:
" Would OF " the red nosed reindeer

Is it just me, or is the spacing between 'Pig' and 'and' and 'and' and 'And' and 'And' and 'and' and 'and' and 'And' and 'And' and 'and' and 'and' and 'Whistle' just a little bit off...?

Proper usage of “as such”

  • ggh
  • April 29, 2016, 12:45pm

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History of “-ish”

@Philip
Never seen or heard "ish" used in the manner you describe.
In my experience it's more commonly used to mean "around" or "about", as in "What time will you arrive?" "12ish"

History of “-ish”

  • Philip
  • April 25, 2016, 10:57pm

Yes. Sorry for the confusion.
What I mean by "ish" is the "ish" I saw on a note fastened to a local store's locked entrance door that claimed they would return in fifteen"ish" minutes to reopen. I have also experienced the statement made, "That's cool'ish'". When I asked someone where something that I was looking for was I received the answer, "it's around'ish'". I understand its meaning but why the need for it? Is it laziness? Has it become so pop culture that now it is in common use in our languages? Do we fear committing to the very statements we make? "Ish" to me implies a lack of confidence. Call me old fashioned, but when a store owner used to claim they would return in fifteen minutes they, more often than not, would. But a store owner claiming to return in fifteen'ish' minutes means they could either return in fifteen, twenty, thirty or sixty minutes. There seems to be no accountability in "ish".

History of “-ish”

Just to be clear: we are not discussing the "-ish" ending of words like abolish, punish, which comes from French.
"-ish" in the sense of "somewhat" is recorded in the OED as far back as 1894/1916
The alternative is to use the French version: "-esque" .
"Ish" has become a new standalone word in British English, meaning somewhat.

I will be honest and say that I have no academic background in the use of words, grammar or punctuation, that is aside from a high school diploma that I barely acquired in my youth. In fact, in almost everything that I have typed, am typing and will type, it will be quite understandable if one was to find a multiple amount of errors. I have probably proven this within the few sentences that I have written here. However, this does not stop me from trying, nor does it stop me from learning. I love to learn about words, their history and their origins. Before I research, when I come across a word that I do not know I first guess at it's story and then search it out. So allow me to try that here with the word 'of'

Now I could be completely wrong or I could be on to something. When I think of 'of', I think of it in relation to a subject or topic. When we say "How bad of a decision" the of refers to the particular decision. If we were to say "How bad a decision" there is more ambiguity as to what decision is being referenced. "How bad a decision?" could be any decision, whereas "How bad of a decision?" is more specific to the situation at hand. "A decision" is more abstract and free. "'Of' a decision" is a little more concrete and belonging to. Call me crazy or just plain wrong, but hey I got to play in the world of words for but a few moments.