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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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Has anybody come across the idiom “Fit as a butcher’s dog”, and if so, is it mainly confined to the North of England? Eric Partridge suggests it originates from Lancashire, but it seems to be used in Yorkshire as well. Also, is it usually used only with the meaning of physically fit, or is its use extending to the other (British) meaning of fit - sexually attractive?

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How do you handle a quote within a quote within a quote in an MLA citation?

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How can backwards be a word if backward is as well? Forwards and forward? Beside and besides?

I can’t turn a light switch ons, can I? Go outs the door?

Nouns can be plural, and verbs have tense, but prepositions? 

When did we start pluralizing those?

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“She said she...” or “She said that she...”

All my life I have received great feedback about my grammar, but these past few years I find myself over thinking it—all the time. It actually causes me to create mistakes where there previously weren’t any. Bizarre? 

One such thing that I have thought too much about is the necessity of “that” in phrases like the above. When would you say it’s necessary? Always? Never? Sometimes? Explain! Thanks!

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Discussion on appropriate use of these two phrases came up on another forum. I believe it depends on context. Would be interested in hearing other views.

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Are adverbs something to be avoided like the plague or an inevitable mutation of the English language that we just have to deal with? I’ve heard it said that they’re the mark of a writer who lacks the vocabulary to use powerful words (for example, “He walked slowly” does not carry the weight of “He plodded” or “He trudged”) and the skill to vary their sentence structure. I’ve seen them used in published in professional work, from George R. R. Martin to J.K. Rowling, so it’s not something authors shy away from and, for the most part, the public accepts it without question.

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Do excuse the purposeful misspelling in my name. It comes from a time where I thought doing such was what the “cool” kids did.

Anyways, I have a question, which just so happens to concern the word I used to start this sentence. I find myself using “anyways” instead of “anyway”, despite it not being “correct”. It’s more a matter of it feeling like it rolls off of the tongue better than any hard reason. If someone can offer their thoughts on its use (or misuse) I would be most appreciative.

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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?

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I love to read Victorian era mysteries and novels. Can you tell me the meaning of “ton” as used in that era? By context it appears to refer to members of high society. Is this accurate? What is the origin of the term? Thanks for your help.

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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?

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Latest Comments

graduate high school simply goes against the grain , the structure of the language, that is why it sounds so illiterate ! It has nothing to do with idiomatic expressions. Whenever I hear it , as i did today on NBC News , it's a shock !!

With friend, the adverb form matches the adjective form. Both are "friendly".

Resume, resumé, or résumé?

  • Phils
  • May 19, 2016, 5:01pm

This debate has gone on since June, 2004. I will say I've learned that Curriculum Vitae is singular and Curricula Vitae is plural (vitarum would mean each one refers to multiple lives)... but as far as resume is concerned, there have been professors, editors, French people, Canadians, Australians, so on, all discussing this and arguing over which dictionary is correct and so on...

It seems that, much like the required number of licks to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop... the world may never know.

“she” vs “her”

  • Warren
  • May 19, 2016, 11:42am

Which is incorrect?
a. Lucia enjoys cooking more than him.
b. The success of the plan depends on us girls.
c.I wouldn't trust Nancy or her with my secret.

Complete sentence in parentheses

Parentheses (constantly utilized as a part of sets) allow a writer to provide additional information. The parenthetical material may be a solitary word, a part, or various complete sentences.

Whatever the material inside the brackets, it must not be syntactically fundamental to the encompassing sentence. If it is, the sentence must be recast. This is a simple mix-up to keep away from. Just read your sentence without the parenthetical content. If it makes sense, the the enclosures are satisfactory; if it doesn’t, the punctuation must be altered.

http://wordmaker.info/ending-with/fe.html

<b>Appropriate utilization of “as such”</b>

The expression "as such" is not a synonym for "accordingly" and its reciprocals. This is a modern and incorrect utilization, although regrettably progressively basic. The expression signifies "in such capacity" or "in itself"; these are its sole right meanings.

My guess is that the common misuse of this expression arises from the fact that there is frequently a close logical connection between use of "accordingly" and its reciprocals and "as such", although the nuance is different.

By method for instance, here are two right sentences which pass on considerably the same importance, and which contrast just in supplanting "as such" with "appropriately":

I am a lawyer, and as such I am formally qualified to express opinions about legal matters.

I am a lawyer, and accordingly I am formally qualified to express opinions about legal matters.

Thank God I am MOT crazy. For the last 10 years i have been aghast as well as bemused at this seemingly "sudden" change in grammar when referring to the "disappearance " so something or someone.Usually "a person"or "an airplane".
God thank you for guiding me to the good old "Google". Now I know, as I thought, it is just another slang attempting to be sophisticated in the British fashion. Now I can sleep at night.Yeah!

Pled versus pleaded

I hate hearing every news story using the (wrong) word: pleaded. I agree that there is a perfectly good word to express the past tense of entering a plea, and that is pled. Even now, when I type "pled", the auto-spell underlines it in red, as if I've typed a non-word. What's next? Now that the media says that I've pleaded at court, should I say that I've readed the book, or that I've feeded the dog? Perhaps I should have leaded a revolt when the media began using pleaded instead of pled.

Nor I.

He was sat

“She was sat beneath a tattered sunbrella on the promenade at Playa Serena, poking at her mothballed novel, when Ian rolled up on his trike.”

Excerpt From: Dozois, Gardner. “The Year's Best Science Fiction: Thirty-Second Annual Collection.” St. Martin’s Press. iBooks.