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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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I have noticed that here in NZ a lot of people use the phrases “as per usual” and “as per normal” in everyday speech. In the UK I only ever heard these phrases used as a form of sarcastic emphasis. I am sure there are a number of “as per ..” phrases in which the “per” does not seem redundant, such as “as per instructions”, but even that seems cumbersome when copmared with “as instructed”.

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I have always believed that an acronym had to be a pronouncable word, like RADAR or LASER, not just a set of initials like IBM or CIA, but I see more and more references that suggest that this is not a generally held belief.

Even the OED seems confused:-

1. A group of initial letters used as an abbreviation for a name or expression, each letter or part being pronounced separately; an initialism (such as ATM, TLS).

2. A word formed from the initial letters of other words or (occas.) from the initial parts of syllables taken from other words, the whole being pronounced as a single word (such as NATO, RADA).

Although Chambers states: acronym (noun) a word made from the first letters or syllables of other words, and usually pronounced as a word in its own right, eg NATO.

Compare abbreviation, contraction, initialism.

Let the games begin! :-)

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The word “hack” has two distinct definitions. One means “to cut or sever with repeated irregular or unskillful blows.” This must be the origin of the word “hack” as used in the world of computers, i.e., to “hack into” a computer. You keep trying different tactics and passwords until you succeed.

But the word “hack” also means to cope with something, to make do with what you have and forget about the details, even if it’s not the proper way to do it, as in a “hack job”. This is a very different definition from the first but the two are often used interchangeably in a confusing way.

“Hackathon” for instance does not mean what many people assume it does. It’s not an event where a bunch of computer hackers try to hack into a system. The term “codefest” better describes what “hackathon” really is, where a bunch of computer programmers get together and collaborate on software applications. They are using the second definition, not the first.

I’m wondering which definition came first. And, where did the second definition come from? Did it exist before the days of computers?

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Is it grammatically correct to say “It had impacts on...”? If the singular form is correct (it had an impact on), I would imagine that the plural form would have to be also correct.

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Alright, this has me stumped for some reason. I believe that saying “I don’t watch much stuff.” is incorrect, but I can’t articulate why. At first, I thought the problem was with [action verb] + stuff, but I realize that you can ask someone to please watch your stuff, so that’s not it. And the problem isn’t simply ‘much stuff’ because someone can have too much stuff. In any case, I was hoping for a definitive reason why (or why not, if I am wrong) it is improper to say ‘watch much stuff’.

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Is it a correct syntax to say: “I’ve no idea” to shortcut “I have no idea”? I see alot of people doing this and I feel that it is wrong.

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New Age Words? Just how far will the practice of adding “age” to existing words be taken. To date we have:- signage being used instead of signs, sewerage being used instead of sewage, reportage being used instead of reporting. I am sure there are many other examples of this particular fad. The media, of course, have adopted the fad with enthusiasm.

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I recently stumbled across the word “floccinaucinihilipilification” and have been struggling to find ways of using it in polite conversation.


Any suggestions?

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Is “tailorable” a proper word? The context of the word is intended to convey that a document is able to be customized, or tailorable.

Tailorable sounds like a reasonable use of “tailor”, especially in the (DoD) Infortmation Technology (IT) industry.

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My question is on “of a”, as in, “How long of a process would this be?” or “How long of a wait is it?” I was taught there is no “of”, rather “How long a wait is it?” or “How long a process?” I see and hear “of a” so often now, I’m wondering if the rules have changed. Thank you.

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“go figure”

IMHO "go figure" is right up there with "do the math" on the list of sayings to be avoided at all times.


Overhead yesterday in a coffee shop:
Customer: Excuse me; I was wondering if I could trouble you for a side salad.
Waitress: Side salad?

Slight mismatch of styles!

How should a waiter or bartender address a customer?
"Do you want .........................?"
"Would you like.....................?"

When you say, "Can I get..?" in the UK, it's generally considered a f**king rude Americanism. Happy Thanksgiving, though.

She and her father look alike
Her and her father look alike

age vs. aged

Which is correct? aged 45 years or over OR aged 45 years or more


Your apology is noted.


Although the addition of "got" may not follow the strictest syntax rules I believe it's use can be justified here because it serves as an intensifier that emphasizes the need to act is greater than the use of "have" alone connotes.
Also, when the contraction "I've" is used then the addition of "got" improves the word structure sonically by preserving the normal rhythm of a sentence because the contraction works as a single word that serves as the noun, or rather, pronoun of the sentence and leaves a need for another verb.

@WW Sorry, I assumed 'cacography' was just a made-up word - it's all Greek to me ;}

@jayles - OK, let's deal with cacography first. Yes, literally, in Greek, it means what you say, and that seems to be the standard dictionary definition, but it also seems to have taken on a new meaning, at least in linguistics:

"Cacography is deliberate comic misspelling, a type of humour similar to malapropism ... A common usage of cacography is to caricature illiterate speakers." Wikipedia.

Languages are creative like that, giving new meanings to adopted words, and so HS was perfectly correct.

You ask HS why he is resorting to Greek. But I could also ask why these (for me, at least) weird Anglish-inspired words have been noticeably creeping back into your own comments recently ("spider-dread" - come on, get real!). For me they have even less to do with natural English than Greek loan words, and I very much doubt that "normal people" have much time for them either.

English is a glorious mix - and I relish it. I have no objection to keeping things simple, but personally I hate this idea of language purism as much as I hate pedantry. Leave the language alone, it's just fine as it is!

I wouldn't have mentioned this if you hadn't brought the subject up :). And as for Stephen Fry, he has made one of the best commentaries on English I've ever seen: