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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 think I first heard the slang “hairy” in Apocalypse Now. The American Heritage says: “Fraught with difficulties; hazardous: a hairy escape; hairy problems.” In the anoted Wordworth edition of Joyce’s Dubliners it says, “too hairy: experienced, canny.” Have you ever heard this slang to be used in this sense? Joyce’s sentence reads thus: “She doesn’t know my name. I was too hairy to tell her that.” Could it be that the editor(s) made a mistake and it was “it” instead of “I” which then would mean closer to the sense we know of the slang? or what?

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Mates, I’m in a big trouble. What does “bios” mean? It must be a Latin word, right? (And I tell you it has nothing to do with computer’s BIOS.) i.e. “...enablig the performer’s “presens” or scenic bios to attract the spectator’s attention...” [Eugenio Barba, The Paper Canoe: A Guide to Theatre Anthropology, p. 9. bios is Italic in the original text] you can check this as well.

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Go + noun? Is it an idiom or bad grammar?

There’s an old Finnish road movie parody about a Soviet accordion band (played by a Finnish group) that goes to the USA. The title of the movie is “Leningrad Cowboys Go America”.

In 1995, a yearly art happening was born in Helsinki, Finland, where small art exhibitions are put up in pubs and restaurants. The happening is called “Art Goes Kapakka” (‘kapakka’ = pub).

With Google you get about 8 000 results with search term “goes America”, and 25 000 with “go America”. In some of them America is the subject of the sentence, but in some of them it is used in the same way as in the Finnish slogans. What strikes me in the latter case is that so many of the net sites are Finnish or German.

Now is this structure just bad grammar from Finnish slogan-makers who didn’t do their homework at school, or is it an idiom used also in the Anglo-Saxon world? I know the expression ‘go crazy’. Can a noun be also used?

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I have this impression that American orthography started to differ slightly from the British spelling because the emigrants sort of started from a clean table in their writing, and spelling grew closer to pronunciation. Americans write ‘realize’, ‘organize’, ‘Elizabeth’, while Brits write ‘realise’, ‘organise’, ‘Elisabeth’: when said aloud, the words have a voiced sibilant, hence the ’z’ instead of ’s’.

Also vice versa. The clearly sounding ’r’ in American pronunciation in words like ’word’, ’bird’, ’are’, should, according to my knowledge, derive from the same liaison between speaking and writing: because it is written, it can also be heard. The audible ’r’ is a kind of relic that has worn off from the British pronunciation.

Is this so?

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Does anyone knows what “V-cards” mean? I was at a Hotel reception in Spain and there were a bunch of American teenagers around. One of them just said to the other “Go race some V-cards” by which he surely meant “shut up” and it was supposed to be offensive. I asked two of my American friends the next day and they said they had no idea what that could have been. I’m almost sure I heard it correctly because there was a Spanish girl among those teenagers who asked “what’s V-cards” and one of the American girls explained to her in a low voice that I could not hear. Though the word “race” might’ve been “raise” or something like that!

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Can’t help it but I really despise the expression “all but”. How did a phrase that suggests the opposite of what it says ever come into currency?

“Such actions were all but unheard of then” “Later, they were all but wiped out in a British attack” “They were all but exterminated by the Jedi”

PS: For some discoveries in word coignage read Neal Stephenson’s trilogy The Baroque Cycle. A mere 3000 pages.

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What does “fuff” mean Dave? Is a corruption of puff?

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I have recently heard the English expression “Big fish in a small pond”. Does anybody know what this means? Can anybody think of an example of one?

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I have heard highly educated people use this word. Where did it come from and why do people use it? It seems almost as if they are uncomfortable using just plain old regardless and feel that the word should sound more complex or something, and so they say irregardless. I have never been able to figure out how this word was created. Any ideas?

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ab

Hi all. I’m back after a long time. I just finish a short movie and you don’t know what a pain I had, writing the dialogues in English. Anyway, is there any other word than “abnormal” which is negated with prefix AB? Of course there are obscure words like “abnegate”, but I mean the words that one really uses.

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Latest Comments

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