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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I hear people make the word “mine” plural as in, “The book is mines.” This drives me crazy! Has anyone else had this experience and where did this word come from? I have been teaching for over 20 years and it seems to have surfaced in the last 6-8 years or so. Is it just people being lazy?
My 4-year old daughter haven’t learned about irregular verbs and nouns yet, so she often uses the regular versions like “hided”, “breaked”, “mouses”, “fishes”, etc.. Obviously kids learn the rules and try to consistently apply them instead of learning the usage of every word case by case. So, they face the same exact frustration that ESL students do, which was a bit of a surprise to me. I thought kids learn in a more empirical, case-by-case manner, rather than relying on logical patterns.
This lead me to look up the history of irregular verbs and nouns. If native speakers of English have a hard time learning it at first, how did irregular verbs and nouns come into existence in the first place? It’s as if some sadistic English teacher invented them so that he would have more things to test his students on.
I found this entry on Wikipedia about Indo-European ablaut which explains the history of it. Not being a linguist, I didn’t quite get some of the things explained there, but I understood that the irregular verbs and nouns came from different linguistic systems within which they were perfectly regular. In other words, the English language has incorporated different systems of inflection, and now we are stuck with them.
But I feel that this is something that we could all agree to change, just as the whole world (except for the Americans) decided at one point to adopt the metric system. We just have to deal with the grammar Nazis cringe and squirm uncontrollably for several years until they get over it. We would have one less thing we have to study at school, and the same time and effort can be used to learn something more meaningful and useful.
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?
I can understand the need to shorten commonly used terms in technical language, but how did they get x from trans?
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.
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?
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.
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).