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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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X and S

How do I make the name Fox in possessive plural form?
Ex. Ms. Fox' instructional practices... or Ms. Fox's instructional practices...

He was sat

  • Marusja
  • February 17, 2017, 7:04am

I can see that there is a long and diverse discussion on here, but my response is to you Brus, hailing from the British Isles. The epidemic as you rightly describe it, seems to be spreading contagion like from the BBC and into written material. "I was sat" and "we were stood" are examples of colloquial terms from the North of England. Dialects are unique to an area and rich in expression when used in an authentic way and don't appear out of place.

The reason we may be startled by the sudden introduction of such vernacular is due to it simply being out of place when spoken by someone who has been educated in the Queen's English. It rankles because it is wrong in our ears. Unfortunately, this is a legacy of inverted class snobbery whereby some people think that they should downgrade the language in order not to sound 'posh'. It backfires spectacularly though upon them when they try so hard to fit in with the crowd, rather than represent the side of 'well spoken'. I cringe whenever I hear these dialects out of place, not just because of the infringement but also because it doesn't sound beautiful or harmonious, but clumsy.

My mother couldn't speak English when she arrived in the country shortly after WW2. By listening to the radio and armed with a dictionary and the daily newspaper, she taught herself through these mediums. Later she read to us as children and took us to the library, where I inherited a love of the language, reading several books a week by the time I was 7 years old.

Although we lived in the Midlands, I didn't have a regional accent since my exposure early on had been to programmes such as 'Women's Hour' and radio presenters in those days all and without fail spoke to a standard considered appropriate. After all, they were communicating to all and needed to be understood widely.

On passing the eleven plus exam and entering Grammar school, we had a Headmaster and a Head Mistress. Miss Simister had a passion for the English language and heaven forbid any pupil who might drop an H or flatten a vowel. I felt right at home there.

It wasn't about being elite, it was about learning and knowledge. It was about aiming for excellence and drawing out the best in oneself.

Miss Simister would turn in her grave were she to hear the downfall of the language. As someone born and raised in the UK, I can assure you that the standards have slipped considerably. It isn't possible for someone learning the language to be sure that they are being taught English correctly if studying here.

I am not speaking out against dialects as they remain an integral part of our culture. To introduce a convoluted invasion however into received pronunciation is noticeably discordant, drawing attention in the wrong way. It becomes an interruption and tunes out whatever the speaker might be conveying.

There is hope though. Apparently when asked, people do prefer the sublime eloquence of the spoken word as voiced by Joanna Lumley and Diana Rigg, recognizing these dulcet tones to be vehicles of quality, easy on the ear and without question completely trustworthy ambassadors of English in all its glory.

No Woman No Cry

It means, if the woman is gone, there will be no tears. It is a reference to the queen and her rule of Jamaica at the time. It's a political song.

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fill in the blanks!

  • Sheri
  • February 15, 2017, 4:23pm

I have a release of all claims and above the notary & witness signatures, there is this statement:
WITNESS___________ hand and seal this ______ day of _________, 2017; what is put in after WITNESS?

Idea Vs. Ideal

  • FrankR
  • February 14, 2017, 9:18pm

I think that using ideal when idea should be the correct word is a silly way to speak. I hear ideal used incorrectly all the time, it really gets on my nerves. Oh well...

How many “ands” in a row

  • Josh S.
  • February 13, 2017, 3:18pm

Wouldn't it have been clearer if quotation marks had been placed before Peg, and between Peg and and, and and and And, and And and and, and and and And, and And and and, and and and Whistle, as well as after whistle?" This sentence is much easier to read because the writer placed commas between and and and and and and And, and and and and And and and And and and, and and And and and and and and and And, and and and and And and and And and and, and and And and and and and and and.

Twice what it was (= 2x).

He was sat

  • marie
  • February 13, 2017, 1:14pm

Sorry, but your argument doesn't make sense to me. If you were teaching science you would give your students the correct formula. I think the tragedy is that in the UK grammar hasn't been taught for so long, a lot of people who try to teach English don't understand enough to do this effectively. I certainly wouldn't have any respect for a teacher who didn't teach me correctly.

This website was really useless and was no help to me. All I wanted to know was the tension/stress of totalitarianism and it did not give me anything. This website is useless ad it should be taken down. It will be know help to anyone.

Thank You