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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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As a kid in the ’50s I pronounced the word ‘often’ with the ‘t’ sound until I looked it up and found preferred pronunciation ‘of-en’. Now I always hear it with the ‘t’ pronounced. Did I imagine the change?

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Just what does “You have two choices” actually mean? Since “You have a choice” indicates that more than one option exists, what is “You have two choices” meant to convey?

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Why do we nowadays have to pre-book or pre-order items? Surely we always used to book or order them, and they would be delivered when ready.

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To preface, I have been studying conditionals for the last few days because the grammar book that I used barely mentioned it. Now as the title suggests, I have a question about modal remoteness and tense. My question deals with stories, which are typically in the past tense, and when modality occurs which I should use: second (present time remote) or third (past time remote) conditional. I am unsure of which but am leaning towards third conditional. Which would be used?

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While doing some homework for literature, I constructed these two sentences and was wondering if they can be interpreted differently. The original sentence was the synopsis of “The Fall of the House of Usher” by Poe and started in the present tense, which will also be included because there is a question I have about it.

A1) The narrator arrived at the house of his childhood friend, Roderick Usher, who had sent him a letter that had requested his presence.

A2) The narrator arrived at the house of his childhood friend, Roderick Usher, who had sent him a letter that requested his presence.

What is the difference in meaning between the above sentences?

The original sentence was:

B) The narrator arrives at the house of his childhood friend, Roderick Usher, who had sent him a letter that requested his presence.

In the sentence, the narrator is currently arriving at the house because he received a letter that requested his presence, which had been sent by Roderick Usher. Does that coincide with the above statement?

For a timeline: Usher sent the letter—> the letter, through Usher’s words request the narrator’s presence—> the narrator’s arrival.

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Selfie becomes a word!

The selfie – defined as ‘a photograph that one has taken of oneself’ – has taken off to such a degree in 2013 that the term was last week named Word of the Year by the Oxford English Dictionary.

Progress indeed!

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I’ve been seeing and hearing people use “based out of” more and more, when they mean simply “based in.” The phrases at first glance would seem to mean opposite things, as if being “based out of New York” would imply one is not actually in New York. But it’s clear people use them with the same intention. 

Case in point: At the U. S. Small Business Administration website a paragraph about Home-Based Businesses includes this: “In fact, more than half of all U.S. businesses are based out of an owner’s home.”

I see this phenomenon as yet another example of what is to me a peculiar affection for a term or phrase longer than one with the same meaning that’s been considered standard for a long time. Folks no longer plan, they pre-plan. We take preventative steps, not preventive. But “based out of” seems worse, because to me it’s just bad usage.

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I’m not sure when it started, but at some point, servers in restaurants, when coming around to your table to check on you, started asking “how’s everything tasting?”, rather than the formerly prevalent “how is everything?”. It seems as if a universal email went out to all wait staff everywhere, with the decree that this is now the proper way to phrase the question. But while it’s no longer a new practice, it still grates on my ears whenever it’s asked of me. I mean, this is FOOD: When asking about someone’s satisfaction regarding food, isn’t the sense of taste implied? Are they otherwise expecting someone to reply, “Well, it TASTES great, but it looks disgusting and smells terrible”? To me, asking “how’s everything” instead would imply not only the food, but also the congeniality and promptness of service, the atmosphere... ie, the overall experience. By narrowing the inquiry down to taste only, it seems to make the statement that the establishment doesn’t much care about the patron’s OVERALL satisfaction! I think this is the aspect of it that disturbs me: I can prepare all sorts of wonderful food in my kitchen, and for a fraction of the price of eating out. What I feel I’m paying for when dining out is the experience as much as the food, and it is my satisfaction with that experience that this new question (besides its annoying redundancy) seems to deliberately avoid.

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I’ve always believed that, especially with clothing, that there are stripes (vertical) and bands or hoops (horizontal) but I hear more and more people describing bands or hoops as stripes, and even as horizontal stripes. Another evolution?

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I came upon this on their website: “The Senior Management Team at Fettes College have day to day responsibilities for the running of The College. They meet regularly throughout the year and feedback to staff and Governors as appropriate.”

Leaving aside the rather Germanic employment of capital letters on some, but strangely then not all, of the nouns in this statement, and the wholly gratuitous ‘as appropriate’ tacked on to fill up some space, I find most irksome the use here of ‘feedback’ as a verb. I would use two words: ‘feed back’ (a compound verb), or I would insert a verb and say ‘provide feedback’ (noun + verb). In fact I would much prefer to avoid this ugly expression altogether and use a term such as ‘report back to’ or ‘report to’. Am I alone in finding this whole thing rather disappointing for a major British school?

It’s like the sign at Gatwick airport which directs passengers to do something along the lines of ‘check-in here’ where what is meant is ‘check in here’ because ‘check in’, being what you do, is a compound verb, and ‘check-in’, being the name of the place where you do it, is a noun. 

It is very elementary grammar, as taught to me at about the age of eight, noun! verb! and I find it almost incredible that a renowned Scottish public school can be so sloppy, and that a major airport in England, an English-speaking country, does not proof-read what is to be painted in huge letters on its walls. 

On the other hand, one’s reaction to seeing in Phnom Penh, in Cambodia, the “PRINCESSS HOTEL” in huge pink neon lights ranged in a column above the door, has to be mirth, and wondering what the extra S cost the management. It is not as though they could not afford an apostrophe, as in the foyer are life-size photographs of a number of these estimable ladies, so the ‘princesss’ are plural. So it was an ‘e’ which proved beyond budget, then, or a proof-reader. But that of course is forgivable, as it is not in an anglophone country.

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Latest Comments

hanged vs. hung

I'm an antiquarian. I want my careful (though defective, of course) education to matter. Should my position have any legitimacy? I think it has always been a strong motivation for those who resist linguistic change; and sloppiness has always been a pressing reason for it.

No Woman No Cry

I thought it mean if a boy don't involve themself with girl , they won't ever get hurt and you know won't never cry .

People use it a lot it hurts!
a sarcastic example would be by singing:
" Would OF " the red nosed reindeer

Is it just me, or is the spacing between 'Pig' and 'and' and 'and' and 'And' and 'And' and 'and' and 'and' and 'And' and 'And' and 'and' and 'and' and 'Whistle' just a little bit off...?

Proper usage of “as such”

  • ggh
  • April 29, 2016, 12:45pm

Admin, if not okay please remove!

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History of “-ish”

@Philip
Never seen or heard "ish" used in the manner you describe.
In my experience it's more commonly used to mean "around" or "about", as in "What time will you arrive?" "12ish"

History of “-ish”

  • Philip
  • April 25, 2016, 10:57pm

Yes. Sorry for the confusion.
What I mean by "ish" is the "ish" I saw on a note fastened to a local store's locked entrance door that claimed they would return in fifteen"ish" minutes to reopen. I have also experienced the statement made, "That's cool'ish'". When I asked someone where something that I was looking for was I received the answer, "it's around'ish'". I understand its meaning but why the need for it? Is it laziness? Has it become so pop culture that now it is in common use in our languages? Do we fear committing to the very statements we make? "Ish" to me implies a lack of confidence. Call me old fashioned, but when a store owner used to claim they would return in fifteen minutes they, more often than not, would. But a store owner claiming to return in fifteen'ish' minutes means they could either return in fifteen, twenty, thirty or sixty minutes. There seems to be no accountability in "ish".

History of “-ish”

Just to be clear: we are not discussing the "-ish" ending of words like abolish, punish, which comes from French.
"-ish" in the sense of "somewhat" is recorded in the OED as far back as 1894/1916
The alternative is to use the French version: "-esque" .
"Ish" has become a new standalone word in British English, meaning somewhat.

I will be honest and say that I have no academic background in the use of words, grammar or punctuation, that is aside from a high school diploma that I barely acquired in my youth. In fact, in almost everything that I have typed, am typing and will type, it will be quite understandable if one was to find a multiple amount of errors. I have probably proven this within the few sentences that I have written here. However, this does not stop me from trying, nor does it stop me from learning. I love to learn about words, their history and their origins. Before I research, when I come across a word that I do not know I first guess at it's story and then search it out. So allow me to try that here with the word 'of'

Now I could be completely wrong or I could be on to something. When I think of 'of', I think of it in relation to a subject or topic. When we say "How bad of a decision" the of refers to the particular decision. If we were to say "How bad a decision" there is more ambiguity as to what decision is being referenced. "How bad a decision?" could be any decision, whereas "How bad of a decision?" is more specific to the situation at hand. "A decision" is more abstract and free. "'Of' a decision" is a little more concrete and belonging to. Call me crazy or just plain wrong, but hey I got to play in the world of words for but a few moments.