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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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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."