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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

Most-Populous vs. Most-Populated

You would not hyphenate "most-populous" just as you wouldn't hyphenate "she is the most popular girl in school." You would however hyphenate something like "Honolulu is an ultra-populous urban epi-center."

Really cute website. Very clever.

Actress instead of Actor

As far as I am concerned females who act are actresses, as was always known in the past. I disagree with Whooping Goldberg. An actress can play any role as needed, there is no need for her to be called an actor. This is similar to calling the chairman, " the chair", absolutely unnecessary, what is wrong with madam chairman? A chair is something one sits on!

Resume, resumé, or résumé?

Sorry Jun-Dai, but you are wrong, If we are going to use accents, let's use the ones that make sense. In current English resumé is pronounced REH-zue-MAY. There is no need for the accent ague on the first e, because that would indicate it should be pronounced RAY, not REH. My personal preference is to avoid these accents carried over from the French original, as we do for cafe. Another way to avoid the issue, in a document title for example, is to use all caps when appropriate, such as RESUME; then in even for proper French spelling no accents are required. Finally, don't take my word for it: per Wiktionary: "In Canada, resumé is the sole spelling given by the Canadian Oxford Dictionary; résumé is the only spelling given by the Gage Canadian Dictionary (1997 edition)." Oxford rules for those who wish to speak and write English; Americans are welcome to use their Webster's as long as they keep it south of the border.

Typo in previous entry; typed fact instead of facet. :)

That was a somewhat petulant and insulting post.
I am certainly not trying issue you with any fiats or diktats, but merely pointing out that there are those of us whose views differ from yours.
You are of course entitled to your opinions, as am I.
I also like to question many things; among these are the way our language has been and is being bastardised and the laissez faire attitudes of those who consistently trumpet the dubious virtues of common usage.
As for my education being founded in a "Victorian" view; that premise is not even worthy of comment, let alone discussion.
I do not cling unquestioningly to any fact of the English language, but it does seem that there are those like yourself who are quite happy to see the language sullied in support of common usage.

What is the "chronological position" of man Mohan Singh as a prime minister

people like she/he are...

The word "like" is a preposition, and the pronoun is its object. Objects take the accusative case: 'him', 'her', etc.
The correct form of the pronoun is 'her.'

people like she/he are...

The word "like" is a preposition, and the pronoun is its object. Objects take the accusative case: 'him', 'her', etc.
The correct form of the pronoun is 'her.'

Computer mouses or computer mice?

  • antoine
  • October 14, 2016, 11:59am