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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

@HS So how can we tell that "cattle" is plural but "herd" is a "collective" noun?

@jayles the unwoven

There are nouns which are recognised as having only a plural form and as such are not relevant to a discussion on collective nouns.
These include police, cattle, oats, tweezers, pants, remains.

@HS Could you please complete the following:
a) Quick! The police ___ coming!
b) The cattle ___ lowing, the baby awakes.

Please also explain how, in your world, we can tell which nouns are "collective" and which are not.

“It is I” vs. “It is me”

"It is I," and "It am I," are both stiff for the same reason; they are illiterate, for both attempt to mix first and third person pronouns and "to be" verbs.

Another way to answer the question, only this time with the word "me," would be with an appropriate preposition in front of it. For example, one could say, "This is the voice of me." Or if someone asked whose picture this is, one could answer, "It is an image of me."

One could drop the use of pronouns altogether and say, "It was my knocking you heard. May I come in?" Clearly, all the person on the other side of the door just needs to hear is the knocker's voice to know who it is.

My apologies for the typo in my previous post.
I should of course have used plurality instead of pluralism.

Resume, resumé, or résumé?

Just what I was looking for. I think it could also be useful for everyone to know how and where to merge documents online. BTW, if anyone needs to merge PDF/PNG files online, I found a service here <a href="http://www.altomerge.com/" >altomerge</a>.

@JonRich
With you 100% on this one.
However, I've no doubt the usual naysayers will present some spurious contrary arguments.

This keeps popping up, and there are those who will insist on using a plural verb for certain collective nouns.
IMHO a collective noun gets a singular verb. End of story.
Despite arguments to the contrary, "family" is a collective noun, and I don't care how many family members there might be, it therefore gets a singular verb.
Similarly team, government, IRS, etc etc are all collectives and get singular verbs.
No doubt Warsaw Will and Jayles will now climb in with contrary positions based on some spurious concept of pluralism.

Walking Heavens

I'd go with "Walking Heaven’s woods with her daddy."
I base that on my reading it as Heaven being singular and the woods being part of Heaven.

for god sake its not that complex

Take me to your leader

bring your leader to me

there is a context to "bring" and "take" a direction of movement

and US films and TV are getting it wrong