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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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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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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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This is one I hear so many times that they both sound incorrect to me, so when someone calls and asks for me I simply say "speaking" or "this is Lori." Problem solved. If I had to choose one, this is her seems more logical.. such as to imply, this is her speaking.

Pled versus pleaded

Re: 'There is no pled!'

To quote The Everly Brothers 'Wake up little Suzie'.

Pled is alive and well and living in many Scottish courtrooms.

“Friday’s Child”

  • guy1
  • May 29, 2016, 7:23pm

Common modern versions include:

Monday's child is fair of face,
Tuesday's child is full of grace,
Wednesday's child is full of woe,
Thursday's child has far to go,
Friday's child is loving and giving,
Saturday's child works hard for a living,
But the child who is born on the Sabbath day
Is bonnie and blithe and good and gay.[1]
Often some of the lines are switched as in:

Monday's child is fair of face,
Tuesday's child is full of grace,
Wednesday's child is full of woe,
Thursday's child has far to go,
Friday's child works hard for a living,
Saturday's child is loving and giving,
But the child who is born on the Sabbath day
Is fair and wise and good in every way.
Origins[edit]
This rhyme was first recorded in A. E. Bray's Traditions of Devonshire (Volume II, pp. 287–288)[2] in 1838 and was collected by James Orchard Halliwell in the mid-nineteenth century.[1][not in citation given] The tradition of fortune telling by days of birth is much older. Thomas Nashe recalled stories told to "yong folks" in Suffolk in the 1570s which included "tell[ing] what luck eurie one should have by the day of the weeke he was borne on". Nashe thus provides evidence for fortune telling rhymes of this type circulating in Suffolk in the 1570s.[3]

There was considerable variation and debate about the exact attributes of each day and even over the days. Halliwell had 'Christmas Day' instead of the Sabbath.[1][not in citation given] Despite modern versions in which "Wednesday's child is full of woe," an early incarnation of this rhyme appeared in a multi-part fictional story in a chapter appearing in Harper's Weekly on September 17, 1887, in which "Friday's child is full of woe", perhaps reflecting traditional superstitions associated with bad luck on Friday – as many Christians associated Friday with the Crucifixion. In addition to Wednesday's and Friday's children's role reversal, the fates of Thursday's and Saturday's children were also exchanged and Sunday's child is "happy and wise" instead of "blithe and good".

Pled versus pleaded

We are not talking connotation and de oration here. Plead is plead and the past is pleaded, end of discussion. There is no pled!

Oh, that didn't seem to work very well.
The main point is the verb to use with 'small talk' is 'make'. Eg We made small talk while waiting for the bus to come.
'I had a small talk with someone' to me suggests that there is some issue or grievance which needs to be settled in private; but possibly it is not used in this way in the US (or, who knows, by presidential candidates of the non-presidential variety ).

It would be relatively unusual to make 'small talk' countable; one could say "She gave a small talk on ....", but that would be using the phrase in its literal meaning.
"Small talk" usually means talking about the weather, some football game, the latest shade of lipstick (or whatever women consider inconsequential) , or some other non-weighty matters.
http://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=+*+small+talk&year_start=1800&year_end=2000&corpus=15&smoothing=3&share=&direct_url=t2%3B%2C*%20small%20talk%3B%2Cc0%3B%2Cs0%3B%3Bof%20small%20talk%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Bthe%20small%20talk%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Band%20small%20talk%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Bin%20small%20talk%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Bmake%20small%20talk%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Bfor%20small%20talk%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Bno%20small%20talk%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Bmaking%20small%20talk%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Bmade%20small%20talk%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Bwith%20small%20talk%3B%2Cc0

Pronunciation: aunt

"Aunt" should rhyme with "Haunt;" therefore I say ont.
Born in Arkansas but raised in California.

wtf? Maybe it's better, I prefer, then I would..

should this be of any help????

Pled versus pleaded

{t may be "old-fashioned, but then so am I. I go with "pled."

Nope

Would Nancy Reagan's Just Say No To Drugs campaign been more successful if it was Just Say Nope To Dope?

As comedian John Mulaney noted, In porn movies you hear lots of "Yea", "Oh Yeah","Uh-Huh","Mm-hmm","Yes YES!" but never "Yep"