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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 have noticed recently that the phrase “admits to” keeps popping up in contexts where the “to” is obviously redundant.

“He admits to the offence” 

“He admitted to the charge”

Is this a new fad or has it been going on for some time?

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When you Google “What does curb your dog mean?”, you find three different answers.

  1. Control your dog.
  2. Pick up dog poop.
  3. Take the dog to the curb to pee or poo.

I always understood it to mean #2, so even when I saw a sign that said “Curb your dog,” I would let my dog poo there but I picked it up afterward. I figured the person who put the sign there would be satisfied with that. But if #3 is what is meant by the sign, s/he would not be happy.

What is confusing is the word “curb” itself. It can mean “control” or “edge of street” which are two completely different definitions, and I would assume that they came from completely unrelated etymological roots. The expression is so vague and confusing that it is ineffective.

The only one that actually makes sense is #1 as “curb” means to control.

#2 doesn’t really make sense. The word “curb” has no definition that means to pick up after something, although it can indirectly imply cleaning up after the misbehavior of your own dog. (i.e., Since dogs cannot control themselves, you need to control the aftermath for them.) It’s too vague. You should just say, “Pick up after your dog.”

#3 is problematic for two reasons. Firstly, “curb” in this context should be used as a noun. I seriously doubt that “take your dog to the curb” was what was meant when the signs first started appearing in public. If you are the first person ever to create this sign, and if you meant to say, “take your dog to the curb”, then you would not write “Curb your dog.” You could not expect other people to understand what you meant by that, as there was no such use of the word “curb” in a verb form. You would have written: “Take your dog to the curb.” My second problem with #3 is that it implies it’s fine to leave the poo as long as you take the dog to the curb.

My theory is that “Curb your dog” originally had only one definition: “Control your dog.” And, the sign originally was introduced because many dogs were not kept on leash, and would cause trouble, like attacking kids, starting a fight with other dogs, barking uncontrollably, and running into the traffic. Ideally, they wanted to say, “Keep your dog on leash”, but at the time, this probably felt too extreme, so they just wanted to ask dog owners to responsibly control their dogs’ behavior. Then, in big cities like New York, some people started interpreting the word “curb” to mean the edge of the street/sidewalk, although it’s a bit of a stretch, given that “curb” in this case should not be used as a verb.

This is my theory of how the expression was originally introduced and evolved to include all three definitions. What do you think?

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Can you please comment on a trend that I have noticed recently. More and more people seem to be pronouncing words that contain the letters “str” as if they were written “shtr”. Strong sounds like shtrong, strange sounds like shtrange, and so on. I have noticed even my favorite NPR journalists mispronouncing these words. I first noticed this pronunciation in one of Michelle Obama’s early speeches. I’d appreciate any insight that you might have.

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I suppose this more of speculation and bit of a question. I have noticed some quotations of ‘nor’ paired with ‘not’ (typically a comma follows not and whatever it is negating), for example:

“Battery D did not stop at the first, nor the second, but halt was made at what was ...”

“These bonds did not give their owners the privilege of using them as a basis for bank-note circulation, nor was there any other privilege...”

“... meaning of its message so clearly, so simply, and yet so earnestly, and with such a passionate longing that from York Hill there should indeed radiate “Peace and good will towards all men,” that not the stupidest nor the most frivolous girl but was touched to a sense of higher ideals and...”

All quotes are provided by dictionary.net in the quotations for ‘nor’.

Is it possible that this could become a correlative conjunction paired with ‘not’ or possibly a substitution for ‘neither’ in the “neither-nor” pair? Or maybe, has ‘not’ been a viable substitute for ‘neither’ for years without notice?

This idea tenuously excites me.

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I imagine everyone uses an apostrophe with expressions of distance or time when the number is one:

It’s only an hour’s drive from here.
They live a mile’s walk away.
A stone’s throw away.

It follows that an apostrophe should also be used in the plural version, as stipulated by, amongst others, The Guardian and Economist style guides:

It’s three hours’ drive from here.
They live two miles’ walk away.

I notice the apostrophe is often dropped here, so my question is this - do you think the apostrophe:

is always optional?
is only necessary in formal writing?
is always necessary?

or that there is some other grammatical explanation that makes the apostrophe unnecessary?

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Why, for a task, can we take it on, or put it off But for clothing we take it off and put it on?

(background: I am an American living in Hungary, so teaching/correcting English comes up a lot, and many here learn British English, so even I learn new words. People here often mix up the words for “put on” your clothes or “take off” clothes. They’ll say put off your jacket, or take on your shoes, etc. This became an embarrassingly awkward situation yesterday when I had to get an x-ray and ultrasound, and the tech didn’t speak very good English. She told me to undress everything, but then said I could take on my trousers, or put off something, and I really had no idea how “undressed” I had to get. I was thinking of how to explain it, that putting should be away from you, and taking should be towards you... but when it comes to clothing, we use the opposite - put ON and take OFF. Unless we’re taking it OUT of a closet and putting it AWAY. aaahh!!!)

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I’m all for the metric system, and I’m sure a lot of British schoolchildren would be well pissed off if UKIP’s idea of restoring the imperial system ever came to fruition. But I do find sentences like this, in a item on the BBC website, rather strange and unnatural:

Mr Teller says the first question is not “How can we make a tonne of money?”

I know that tonne is our unit of measurement now, but does it have to take over our idioms as well, especially as this is probably more of an American idiom anyway (I think we Brits would be more likely to say ‘ton(ne)s of money’)?

The following idioms are all listed in British dictionaries with ‘ton’ or ‘tons’:

They came down on him like a ton of bricks.

That bag of yours weighs a ton!

I’ve got tons of work to do.

We’ve got tons of food left over from the party.

I don’t know why the BBC insist on using tonne in idioms. Perhaps they think young people won’t know what a ton is. I say keep the idiomatic ton, and leave tonne for weights. After all people don’t say they’re off to spend a new penny, do they? (Actually I’m not sure anyone says that anymore anyway!)

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I have always believed, probably in common with most Scots, that the pronunciation of “gill” varies depending on whether one is referring to the organ of respiration in fishes and other water-breathing animals ( /ɡɪl/ ), or a measure of liquid (/dʒɪl/ ), or even one of the many other variations of the word. I was therefore somewhat surprised recently when watching an episode of QI to hear the erstwhile Stephen Fry and his guests use /ɡɪl/ for both the fishy organ and the liquid measure..

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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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Resume, resumé, or résumé?

  • SKS
  • July 26, 2016, 6:45pm

I live in Canada and we would be appalled to see "resume" (pronounced here as "re-zoom") as the spelling for something we pronounce as "reh-zoom-ay". Either "resumé" or more correctly "résumé" works for us, and we don't consider the accent(s) poncey or pretentious. Then again, the majority of us also speak French, so accents are pretty normal up here. Perhaps just use "CV" and spare us trying to figure out if you're wanting to begin again or seeking a job. But please don't call us pretentious for using correct spelling. :) While we're at it , what's up with "story" to indicate the number of floors in a building? I guess there really are many stories in the Naked City. But clearly no storeys. I'm American-born but it still drives me nuts to see letters dropped for no discernible reason.

Found this on this website: http://public.wsu.edu/~brians/errors/meeither.html

...Inside a longer sentence, “me either” can be perfectly legitimate: “whole-wheat pie crust doesn’t appeal to me either.” But by itself, meaning “neither do I,” in reply to previous negative statement, it has to be “me neither”: “I don’t like whole-wheat pie crust.” “Me neither.”

what is best for a resume?
Graduate from _______________
High School Diploma from________________

Someone else’s

"Else" can be an adjective or adverb, we can agree. But would it be improper to recognize certain usages as being an indefinite noun, or as a compound noun as in "somewhere" (both an adverb and a noun) as it relates to "somewhere else"? Both are indefinite places, only "somewhere else" is an indefinite place other than the indefinite place referred to as "somewhere". Is one of those more definite than the other? A mathematician using logic and set theory might give a different answer than a grammarian. But either way it seems like a trivial question of no substantive import.
Maybe we can accept variations of syntax and spelling as having a preferred status (according to the source) without the requirement that one form be labeled incorrect from a literary or scholarly perspective. Sure makes life a little easier and less contentious, unless one is obsessively compelled to accept only black-and-white, all-or-nothing single versions, which gets really complicated since most words have more than one definition. The bottom line is whether the message is easily understood by all or most readers, (and whether there are any penalties or adverse consequences which an administrative authority may impose). And if it has the additional factors of consistency and commonly accepted versions, so much the better. Eventually, most languages undergo changes in some way or else another. (I refuse to even try to analyze that usage.)

In 1826 it occurs in print here:
Hearings Before Subcommittee No. 3 of TheCommittee on the Judiciary, House of Representatives, Eighty-first Congress,

as "I'm just saying that this is ridiculous and unfair".

As a stand-alone sentence, possibly about 1936.

http://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/us/de...
identical adjective
BrE /aɪˈdentɪkl/ ; NAmE /aɪˈdentɪkl/

*similar in every detail
*a row of identical houses
*The two pictures are similar, although not identical.
*identical to somebody/something: Her dress is almost identical to mine.
*identical with somebody/something: The number on the card should be identical with the one on the chequebook.
Cheerio! :)

“ask the gays”

Technically the grammar is ok; it is just that by using "the" one almost tends to suggest that all gays are one homogenous group who think alike. There is a discussion about this here:
http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=26223

I'm not at all surprised that no one cited from Oscar Horace's second (1913) publication, "Word and Phrase Sources and Usage: Adjectival and Advebial Etymologies and Preposition Connectors," which he dedicated to his father, Horatio, and his daughter, Amelia.

Horace explains the French usages, as for instance ), "Je suis amoureaux d'Amelia.," of which the English translation is, "I am enamored of Amelia."

He was greatly surprised that, born of the English casual pronunciation of that phrase, an artisan created a tiny glazed bird he called the "Enamor Dove," to be used when words fail the suitor who wants her to be apprised of the depth of his love for her. (In marketing the artisan, at fairs, emphasized that the Enamor Dove exemplifies a a level of courtship that is far beyond the turtle dove stage).

Anyway, the Enamored Dove was oft-bought throughout the British Isles.

And, explains Horace, the product increased the popular usage of "I am enamored of."

Ultimately, Horace's 13 volumes of his word-usage explanations were replaced by more recent books authored by others beginning in the 1880s. Nothing replaced the Enamored Dove, and it was soon forgotten. Foolishly, Horace was against copyrighting and his volumes were not reprised. Libraries, always in need of shelf space, discarded the Horace 13 volumes or stacked them in their basement. Apparently, none of them now exists, either.

Luckily, a friend from Cambridge U, Divad Saratla, visited Washington, DC and was introduced at a party to a huge defensive lineman and they became fast friends. When David learned about his new friend's verbal deficiencies caused by dyslexia, he showed one of the Horace volumes to him, of which the football player became enamored. David gave to him all 13 of the Horace volumes.

I have no idea if any volumes are extant. After years of contacting the usual suspects (forgive me, Sam), and as I now unable to continue, I suppose that Horace's works, to the extent some still may exist, are lodging in a few private homes.

Cheers,
JuTep

Resume, resumé, or résumé?

  • doug
  • July 19, 2016, 6:12pm

Speedwell - I understand "affected overcorrectness" and "we don't use accent marks in English." But it's nice to have a clear difference between "re-zoom" and "rez-oo-may," and the accents clearly eliminate any ambiguity.

Pled versus pleaded

In court, it is common for attorneys and judges to state someone "pled guilty" in the past. I was a criminal prosecutor as well as defense attorney for years and I rarely heard the utterance, "pleaded," in oral discourse. I'm not sure what global marketplace carries more weight than daily use in the courtroom.