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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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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?

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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.

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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).

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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?

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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?

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

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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

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Latest Comments

Past tense of “text”

  • Garuda
  • August 26, 2016, 9:59am

I was just looking this up, but have not found anything "conclusive". I prefer to use "text" for present and past tense though most of my friends use "texted". To me "texted" sounds ignorant and childish. I was hoping to find support for my view, but so far have not.

@gary Curiously, translating English into French usually makes the text at least fifteen percent longer:

http://www.media-lingo.com/gb/faqs/will-the-tra...

The use of 'got' in a clause describing possession of something, such as 'I have got a pen', is superfluous. 'I have a pen' is just fine and indicates a brevity and clarity of thought that eludes many people. It may also indicate the influence of other languages. In French 'I have' is normal. I'm not sure how you would say 'I have got' in French. In fact in French you don't need the addition of 'got' to convey meaning or emphasis. French does seem to have a brevity that English has lost over the years. Around 60% of the English vocabulary originates from French. The Norman invasion of 1066 established French as the language of nobility and government, Latin was the language of the Church and Anglo-Saxon was for the commoners. 
I am an Englishman who has spent many years learning English so I feel I am entitled to criticise the language and especially those who use it badly. Perhaps it's the Germanic influence on English that has caused the gradual creep of 'got'. American English has certainly been a big influence  on the language. A good example of how American English has been a positive influence eludes me at the moment but I do know they exist. The German language had a big influence on American English and in my opinion this comes through in expressions such as 'gotten'. It's a natural progression on the word got but it definitely grates on the British ear. 
The next time I watch a British movie of the 1930s or 1940s I will note the use of the word 'got', although the scripted dialogue may not be a good indicator of common usage. 
Grammar is the set of rules used to govern the use of spoken and written words. As with all rules, some are so rarely enforced that they wither on the vine of principles until extinct. 

Resume, resumé, or résumé?

  • Nana2
  • August 24, 2016, 3:46pm

The accent is called an accent aigu and is usually put on both e's so the reader does not confuse résumé with resume - meaning to start working again on what you were doing previsously

I would call it "native speaker error"

It seems to me that the natural way to write figures as words would be the same way as we say them. So 65.25476% would be sixty-five point two five four seven six percent. If the decimals only go to two or three places then we might talk about hundredths or thousandths but rarely beyond that.

Writing out percentages correctly

10% or ten percent (in a legal contractor)? Not at the beginning of a sentence.

Over exaggeration

Over-exaggeration sounds like taking a sweet cute dump in the deep end of the pool or something. Seems to much like not manning up to your sins or errors.

The fact of the matter is is that

  • JLC
  • August 22, 2016, 4:14am

is is simply redundant

Over exaggeration

This is as egregious as "exactly right." It's either right or wrong with no gray area.