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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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Where or how did the term “my bad” originate? I hear it more frequently all the time and it really annoys me. Bad is an adjective, not a noun or verb.

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How can backwards be a word if backward is as well? Forwards and forward? Beside and besides?

I can’t turn a light switch ons, can I? Go outs the door?

Nouns can be plural, and verbs have tense, but prepositions? 

When did we start pluralizing those?

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Hey

Why, in English, do we say ‘hey’ as a conversation starter? Why not hello? According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, hey is “used especially to call attention or to express interrogation, surprise, or exultation”. It does not mention any connection to the word hello. Why then, do we so often hear hey substituted for hello? Whether talking on the phone, texting, or just trying to make small talk in person, everyone always seems to begin with hey, even when you are already talking to the person and you don’t need their attention. My best guess is that is probably another development in our ever-changing language that came about over time, but does anyone know how this connotation came to be?

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If you’re over a certain age, you will probably be familiar with the expression - ‘If that’s what you think, you’ve got another think coming’. But if you’re a bit younger than me, you might well have heard it as - ‘You’ve got another thing coming’, especially if you’re a heavy metal fan. While I can understand that the saying could have changed through mishearing (an eggcorn?), I am puzzled as to how people who use the newer version understand it’s meaning. The original has a perfect logic to it (if not perfect grammar) which seems to me to be completely lost in the newer version.

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What’s the difference in meaning between ‘-ic’ and ‘-ical’, for example, as in ‘horrific’ versus ‘horrifical’, ‘comic’ versus ‘comical’ ‘fantastic’ versus ‘fantastical’, ‘Eucharistic’ versus ‘Eucharistical’, ‘feministic’ versus ‘feministical’, ‘ecclesial’ vs ‘ecclesiastic’ vs ‘ecclesiastical’, etc? 

The more informative the answer(s), the better.

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The word “hack” has two distinct definitions. One means “to cut or sever with repeated irregular or unskillful blows.” This must be the origin of the word “hack” as used in the world of computers, i.e., to “hack into” a computer. You keep trying different tactics and passwords until you succeed.

But the word “hack” also means to cope with something, to make do with what you have and forget about the details, even if it’s not the proper way to do it, as in a “hack job”. This is a very different definition from the first but the two are often used interchangeably in a confusing way.

“Hackathon” for instance does not mean what many people assume it does. It’s not an event where a bunch of computer hackers try to hack into a system. The term “codefest” better describes what “hackathon” really is, where a bunch of computer programmers get together and collaborate on software applications. They are using the second definition, not the first.

I’m wondering which definition came first. And, where did the second definition come from? Did it exist before the days of computers?

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I am playing rooster in a production of Annie and I need some terms of endearment that were used in the 20s and 30s. I use the term “blondie” but the woman I say it to isn’t blonde. How about “sweet cheeks”? Any help?

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While/among/amid vs whilst/amongst/amidst 

Which of the foregoing variants is older?

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I have seen to-day and to-night used in literature up to the 1920′s. When and why did this become obsolete?

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How popular is the word stymie? Is it possible that it derives from the word stifle?

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Latest Comments

Indirect Speech?

Oops.
Forgive the extra line in my previous post.
A thought that died at birth.

:)

Indirect Speech?

We could call it "oblique speech", or even "roundabout speech", or we could use a derivative of euphemism, metaphor, or allegory.
I am sure there a a number of terms that could be used to avoid the inevitable confusion caused by the use of the term "indirect speech" in this context.
.
Perhaps a simpler solution would be to refer

Someone else’s

  • Don
  • June 25, 2016, 3:04pm

An adverb, such as else, cannot be made possesive. That is reserved for nouns and pronouns. Else cannot be made in a possesive form. If used, it is poor English.

“Rack” or “Wrack”?

  • OJ
  • June 23, 2016, 11:59am

Doesn't look good on proofreading site to find: "tends ton go along" (on this page)

Everybody vs. Everyone

I´d like to thank you all for this nice help ( :

Texted

we don't say look-ed --- we say looked.

therefore -- texted, as in looked

I need to write out 65.25476% for a document. Can you help

Indirect Speech?

Whilst I agree that the term "indirect speech" has almost always been used in writing to refer to "reported speech", it has on occasion been used to refer to oblique or circuitous ways of addressing a topic. For instance, in some tome on Quakerism from 1808:

http://books.google.co.nz/books?id=bNQ3AAAAYAAJ...

and in Judson's Burmese-English dictionary 1893 "this speech is indirect and circuitous":

http://books.google.co.nz/books?id=LSEYAAAAYAAJ...

The question for you would be if the term "indirect speech" is not to be used for these types of polite roundabout ways of addressing a topic, what other terminology could be used?

Indirect Speech?

Whilst I agree that the term "indirect speech" has almost always been used in writing to refer to "reported speech", it has on occasion been used to refer to oblique or circuitous ways of addressing a topic. For instance, in some tome on Quakerism from 1808:

http://books.google.co.nz/books?id=bNQ3AAAAYAAJ...

and in Judson's Burmese-English dictionary 1893 "this speech is indirect and circuitous":

http://books.google.co.nz/books?id=LSEYAAAAYAAJ...

The question for you would be if the term "indirect speech" is not to be used for these types of polite roundabout ways of addressing a topic, what other terminology could be used?

couple vs couple of

It is all part of an evil American plot to eliminate prepositions.

:)