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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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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

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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”

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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”.

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

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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: tu-chemnitz.de

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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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Does anyone know where the term “zero conditional” comes from and why we use it for labeling the “unchanging Laws of Existence” conditional?

What does that “zero” mean?

(Looking for a bit of etymology here and not a desription of zero conditionals per se.)

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I’m wondering if George Lucas just made this word up. I found that sith was from the celtic word “sidhe” meaning “fairy, especially one that conjures dead spirits.”

It seems really random that Sith would mean something and that Jedi would be meaningless.

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L

Can one say “beforehandedly?” and if so should it be with double L or single. If rejected what word would you useinstead? By the way, is the any rule as to use one or two Ls when making adverbs?

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I was taught by my English Lit professor, whilst studying Chaucer and Shakespeare that the old definition of the word “punk” was “Prostitute”. Is this true? The only references I can find will only give me stuff related to The Sex Pistols & co. Any help? Thanks!

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Salutations in letters

In email to someone familiar, I open with "Hi" and sign off with "Cheers" or "Slàinte mhath". Otherwise I use "Good day" and "Regards".
In letters it's normally "Dear ......" and "Yours sincerely".
I agree that "Yours truly" and "Yours faithfully" now seem to be considered passé.

How about, "The rent has doubled.", or "The rent is now twice what it was."
Both "two times higher" and "two times as high" sound like phrases used by primary school kids.

Trust me, when you get to my age, mid 60s, you will start complaining when you hear words spoken which you have grown up with all your life, being given totally different meanings and you are supposed to calmly accept these new meanings without having a clue why they have been changed. If someone comes up to me and says hey as a greeting, then for me I am waiting for them to finish. Even when I just hear it in plays or films, it makes me feel very uncomfortable. I'm not writing here to say it's right or wrong just to make folk understand that it can be very unsettling for some of us.

The team has access to multiple sources

On Tomorrow

  • JBS
  • January 16, 2017, 2:22pm

This is an old world English term sometimes trapped in areas of Appalachia, like many other old German, Scottish, Irish and English phrases (or variations thereof). It's commonly used among religious African American folks in Georgia and Alabama from my experience. The reason so many comments have referenced NE Georgia, Kentucky, and North Carolina etc.. is the Appalachian connection.

An extension of solecism?

Actress instead of Actor

I have long found referring to both male and female thespians as "actors" extremely distasteful, as in PC gone amok. When I waited tables, I had no problem with the term "waitress." Then again, I have no problem with the term "comedienne" for a female comedian. The stewardess/steward thing which is now deemed offensive seems patently absurd to me, but well, "flight attendant" it is! However, reading all the comments with historic connotations does help me make a bit more sense of it all. Personally, I have no problem with the masculine and feminine forms of words/professions, and in fact I do buck against changing all of that, but appreciate the perspectives offered. I totally get that a female MD is not called a doctoress in English, but she would be called "la doctora" in Spanish, and a male "el doctor."

Usually a brand name or a play on words, used in advertising. Like the old pop brand, "Hi Klas" rather than "Hi Class" I want to say what that is called. Would an advertising agency know, I wonder? Or a college course in advertising maybe?

Pronunciation: aunt

I'm Mexican native American from Los Angeles California and I use Ant not aunt but I have heard my cousins say aunt before. Personally I prefer ant.

In general, the noun/verb distinction is accurate, but not completely so.

If I were a lobbyist, I might say "I advocate lower taxes."

But if the Republican Party retained me (with or without pay) as an advocate for lower taxes, I could say "I am an advocate (noun) for the Republican Party" or "I advocate (verb) for the Republican Party."