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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Is there a difference between “further” and “farther”? David Attenborough (age 86, I think) says “farther”. I have never, ever, used that word. What’s the difference, if there is one? My dictionary does not say they are synonyms, but their definitions are identical. “Nothing could be farther from my mind” sounds to me a bit over the top, like saying ‘looking glass’ when you mean ‘mirror’. Views?
Is there any difference between “bad” and “poor.” I always thought that bad implied a moral tone whereas poor simply implied low quality. Has this ever been true? I now look both words up in the dictionary (AHD and Merriam-Webster) and they are synonyms of one another and carry very similar meanings. Have these two words always been essentially the same in their meaning? Or has popular usage of “bad” made them converge toward one another?
In the third conditional, the structure uses the past perfect with the if clause (e.g. “If I had studied...” and the conditional modal + present perfect in the second clause (...I would have gotten a good grade.”)
When and why is it also acceptable to say “If I had studied, I would have a good grade,” where “have” is used as a possessive auxiliary instead of a conditional modal?
Another oddity from my favourite source, The New Zealand Herald:
“Perhaps it’s time to deal to the ads that are just plain downers?”
It may be an undetected error or a misprint, but knowing the Herald, I’m sure the author, the proof readers, and the editors, all thought that “deal to” made perfect sense in the given context.
Is there any defense of capitalizing after a semicolon? This reads well to me:
We do not sell tricycles; We sell velocipedes.
Learn the difference.
Not capitalizing the first word of the second clause diminishes the perceived parallelism:
We do not sell tricycles; we sell velocipedes.
The store around the corner sells bicycles.
With a period between them, the first two clauses read like the premises of a syllogism:
We do not sell tricycles. We sell velocipedes.
Do we sell unicycles?
I will continue, of course, to pen as I please, but, in this instance, wonder if I can confidently publish as I please.
My evening of horror transpired as follows:
While sharing a bottle of wine with my girlfriend I was stupid enough to posit why it was that I had taken such a huge interest in blues music.
“Why, because it’s accessible to your mediocre guitar skills,” she said, “and when your skills improve you switch to real music, like classical guitar”.
“Well then, I hope, once your skills improve in belly dance you’ll switch to real dance,” I responded, “besides it is a misnomer that blues is ‘simple music’!”
Now, my meaning here was that blues music has been historically labeled and designated as “simple music” in order to mislead people into thinking that African-Americans, from whom the music generated, are not capable of anything complex and so somebody will say, “I love blacks because they play ‘simple music’!”
My girlfriend claims English superiority because she went to college and has been told she has a greater grasp on the language than it’s inventors, so she informed me that I had incorrectly used the word “misnomer”. According to her, what I should have said was that ‘simple music’ was a ‘misconception’ and not a ‘misnomer’. I can see the angle she is coming from and, in all honesty, I barely graduated high school, but I am sure that in this instance I am correct. My point was that blues was “misnamed” or “mislabeled” in order to mislead and not if it is actually simple music (I obviously believe that it is not and I am improving at guitar, so hopefully one day I will be able to tell).
In any case, I am currently sleeping on the couch. Is she correct or is it my “belly dance isn’t real dance” that has me on the couch?
Please help me.
Mr. On the Couch Blues
I beg you not to yell at me about any grammar mistake I may have just made. I finished the bottle of wine by myself and I really just want to be right about this one thing.