May 11, 2008  •  howardthornhill

“pi the type”

I have now found the phrase “pi the type” in two different books and have an idea of the meaning from the context. I would hope to learn more about the meaning and how it might have originated.

July 26, 2007  •  goossun

Dick & Bob

Can anyone explain why the short forms or the nicknames for Robert and Richard are Bob and Dick?

February 8, 2007  •  Dyske


Why is the word “ass” considered a curse word inappropriate for children? “Fuck” for instance is understandable because it refers to an act inappropriate for children to engage in. (I personally don’t care, but I understand why other parents would care.) For similar reasons, I understand why any words that refer to our sexual organs would be considered inappropriate for children. “Bitch” is also understandable because it degrades women by associating them to dogs. When I look up the etymology of the word “ass”, all I see are references to buttocks and rear end. So, who decides or decided that “ass” should not be used by children? It appears to me that some people at some point in history started using “ass” to mean a sexual object, and the usage gained in popularity. Suppose some famous comedian or writer starts using the word “buttocks” to mean the same, and it gains in popularity. Are we then to classify it as a curse word and prevent children from using it? Does it make sense to give into that kind of arbitrary forces?

February 7, 2007  •  jarbalix

How did “trans-” become “x-”?

I can understand the need to shorten commonly used terms in technical language, but how did they get x from trans? e.g. transmit --> xmit transfer --> xfer “Trans” in this sense indicates a relocation from one thing to another. My only guess is that x is a graphical interpretation of a path crossing from one side to another. Any suggestions?

January 25, 2007  •  Dyske


The word “materialism” as used by the general public (as in Madonna’s “Material Girl”) is quite different from the one used by philosophers like Marx. I’m always surprised by how even highly educated people confuse the two. Communism is based on Marx’s materialist philosophy, yet the US is often described as a materialistic nation. This is confusing to many people. Did the popular usage of “materialism” come out of the misuse/misunderstanding of the philosophical term? Or, does the popular usage have its own etymology/origin independent of the philosophical one? Or, was the philosophical one based on the popular usage?

November 24, 2006  •  haynesgoddard

Why do we call it “Predicate nominative”

While this is normally a grammar question, I cannot find why we use the language “predicate nominative” to name parts of a sentence. On the surface it connotes nothing. A search of my grammar books, the unabridged dictionary, the OED and an on-line search reveal nothing about the origin of this usage. Also, do we know what grammarian first applied this taxomony? “Nominative” in Latin means “naming”. Do we mean that the part of the sentence with this name is based on, “predicated on”, the subject of the sentence? That is, is the noun “predicate” in this usage related to the verb “predicate”? I have always thought this an unfortunate taxomy, as it makes language learning doubly difficult -- first the language, and then these arcane names to talk about it. This after having studied three European languages plus my own.

June 28, 2006  •  colleen

Why “behead” and not “dehead” or “unhead”?

Why is “behead” the term for removing a person’s head rather than “dehead” or “unhead”? Other words that begin with the “be-” prefix seem to be opposite in meaning to the idea of something being removed or coming off (e.g., become, begin, besmirch, befuddle, bestow, belittle).

April 23, 2006  •  xmrcx

Second and a half generation?

Irrespective of whether 1st generations are the ones who are born first in the new country vs. the ones who immigrated, [See the previous post] what would your child be if say you are 1st generation and your spouse is 2nd generation - Is your child “second and a half”? Curious to know what people under such circumstance (or similar) call themselves?

April 23, 2006  •  elizabethmcauley


I have read that at one time in the American South, it was not common to use an apostrophe to form a contraction of words. Some examples used in the article were you’re spelled as youre, don’t as dont. The implication was that the change was part of Reconstruction and a way of forcing conformity on the southern states. I cannot remember where I read this nor what sources were cited as reference. Where can I find information to prove or disprove that such was the case?

March 12, 2006  •  isabella

Genius and Ingenious

Genius has no ‘o’ in it and yet ingenious does. Why the difference in spelling?

February 24, 2006  •  christina

Fora vs Forums

According to the Oxford English Dictionary... forum n. (pl. forums) 1) a meeting or medium for an exchange of views. 2) (pl. fora) (in an ancient Roman city) a public square or marketplace used for judicial and other business. Origin ME: from Latin, lit. what is out of doors. But everywhere else I’ve looked, it seems that forums and fora are interchangable. I personally prefer to use the word forums, when referring to a group of workshops and meetings. I want to argue for this at my work because the term fora is being used and I want to know if there’s more evidence that I’m actually correct, besides what the Oxford English Dictionary tells me.

January 28, 2006  •  andrew3

The use of “hey” in place of “hello”.

I never paid this much attention until my dad mentioned today that it’s never sounded right to him when people say “hey” instead of “hi” or “hello”. I’ve been using it this way for at least 20 years, but I looked it up in various dictionaries and haven’t yet found a definition consistent with this usage. Most references just define it as “an interjection used to call attention” or something similar and leave it at that. Any thoughts or references that might shed some light?

December 19, 2005  •  m56

Using “would”

Below, is the speaker B sure of who the person is? If so, why not say “That is Julia Roberts”? A: Who’s that woman over there? B: That would be Julia Roberts.

November 27, 2005  •  m56

Are these questions in idiomatic English?

Hi All On another forum, two native English speakers insisted that the questions shown below were incorrect English. Please tell me why, if the affirmative forms (answers ) shown are allowed, the question form is not allowed. What does psychology study? What does solid state physics study? What does quantum mechanics study? ................ -Psychology studies the relationship between environments and human behaviour. -Psychology studies the human psyche, behavior, and mental processes. This diverse field has roots in biology, medicine, philosophy, religion, and history. ... -Solid state physics studies the processes taking place on surfaces and semi-conductors. - -Theoretical physics above all examines the theory of quantum fields, gravitation and quantum information. -Quantum mechanics studies the behavior of atoms and the particles that make them up. Thanks

November 20, 2005  •  gabrielle

pronunciation of th

I am trying to figure out if there is a definite pattern in when ‘th’ is voiced (as in ‘the’) or unvoiced (as in ‘thin’). Someone has commented that sounds are to a large degree determined by the sound that comes after them. This doesn’t explain to me why the ‘th’ in ‘with’ and ‘myth’ are pronounced differently as they have the same ‘sound’ preceding them and nothing after. Can anyone shed any light on this for me? Thanks

September 28, 2005  •  steve


What does the “o’” in “o’clock” stand for? I’ve heard it means “of the”, but that sounds odd. “I’ll meet you at two of the clock”. Perhaps it means “on the” which makes more sense to me. “I’ll meet you at two on the clock”

September 28, 2005  •  steve


Does the word “akin” share roots with other words starting an “a”? For example, “Morton’s gone acourtin’ Daisy Sue”. And if so, are these hillbilly expressions? Hillbillies on TV never seem to use the word “akin” they say “kin” a lot as in “...we’re kin folk”.

September 28, 2005  •  steve


Where does the word “nope” come from? Is it just slang for “no” or does it have more distinguished roots?

September 16, 2005  •  m56

Is there a grammar of spoken English?

Summarising: Three ways of looking at it. Extracts from the Geoffrey Leech article, English Grammar in Conversation. View 1: Spoken English has no grammar at all: it is grammatically inchoate. (That view) ...does not need to be taken seriously, although it is surprisingly persistent in the mind of the folk grammarian. It is inherited from the age-old tradition associating grammar with the written language, and it is bolstered by examples such as the following, which, like others which follow, is from the Longman spoken corpus: No. Do you know erm you know where the erm go over to er go over erm where the fire station is not the one that white white View 2: Spoken English does not have a special grammar: its grammar is just the same as the grammar of written English Conversation makes use of entities such as prepositions, modals, noun phrases and relative clauses, just as written language does. So - assuming, as many would, that differences of frequency belong to the use of the grammar, rather than to the grammatical system itself - it is quite natural to think in terms of one English grammar, whose use in conversational performance can be contrasted with its use in various kinds of writing. In other words, conversational grammar is seen to be just a rather special implementation of the common grammar of English: a discovery which does not necessarily in any way diminish the interest of studying the grammar (i.e. the grammatical use) of spoken language. View 3: Spoken English does have a special grammar - it has its own principles, rules and categories, which are different from those of the written language. In handling spoken language, (David) Brazil argues for a totally different approach to grammar from the approach which has become familiar through conventional focus on the written language. He argues for a linear model moving dynamically through time, and puts aside the more traditional architectural model in terms of hierarchies of units. Although Carter and McCarthy do not take this thorough-going approach, they do throw the spotlight on grammatical features of spoken language which they feel have been largely neglected by standard grammars entrenched in the ‘written tradition’. They argue that structures which are inherent to speech have not been properly studied until the advent of the spoken computer corpus, and are consequently absent from canonised written grammar familiar to learners of English throughout the world: structures such as the ‘dislocated topic’ of This little shop ... it’s lovely or the ‘wagging tail’ of Oh I reckon they’re lovely. I really do whippets. These tend to find their raison d’être in the fact that conversation constructs itself in a dynamic fashion, giving the speaker only a small look-ahead window for planning what to say, and often inducing retrospective add-ons. Carter and McCarthy (1995) put forward a structural model for the clause in conversation, containing in addition to the core clause itself a pre-clause topic and a post-clause tail. With their refreshing emphasis on the dynamic modelling of grammar in action, Carter and McCarthy seem to be taking a line similar to Brazil’s advocacy of a new grammar of speech. Read more at:

August 10, 2005  •  adrianna

Left and Right?

Who thought of calling left, left, and right, right? Why don’t we say 1 and 2, or A and B to determine left and right? My sister really wants to know and I don’t have a clue.

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