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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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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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The new website for Collins Dictionaries is pretty slick. I think the user interface design is well done. Dictionary is something people use frequently, so the interface design and performance matter a lot. Most of the time, I use the dictionary app that came with my Mac because it’s the surest and the fastest way to look up a word. On my iPhone, I use Merriam-Webster App for the same reason (as opposed to going to a mobile-friendly dictionary site on the browser).

In both cases, as long as the Internet connection is decent, the Web versions are just as fast as using the native apps, but there are times when the response is slow on the Web (or lose connection entirely). So, my logic is: Since the native apps would always be fast (or consistent), why bother using the Web-based apps? This is particularly true because the content of dictionaries do not change frequently. It’s not like looking up news stories. So, I’m wondering if there is a way to cache the majority of the words locally so that the performance would be consistent regardless of the Internet connection speed.

One thing I don’t like about the new design on Collins: When I look up a word in a dictionary, I’m either reading or writing something, which means I have either a browser or a text editor open. I would want to be able to look at both the dictionary window and the browser/editor side by side. To be able to do this, the window size of the dictionary needs to be small (especially now that laptop computers are more common than desktop computers). This is another reason why I end up using Mac’s dictionary app. Its window is small. It can always be floating somewhere on my screen. The design of Collins dictionary does not allow you to make its window small. I think it would be easy enough to write a Javascript that would bring the search input area under Word of the day when the window is resized to be smaller than its default width, or simply swap the position between the two areas so that the Word of the day area would be cropped (not the search input) when you make the window smaller.

I’m curious to hear what dictionaries other people use.

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I hear people, including journalists and other professional speakers, say “...but that’s a whole nother story.” I’m afraid that “nother” will show up in the dictionary someday as our language continually devolves.

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My question is about the verb “to sift”. I know that I can sift flour, cocoa powder and all sorts of solid cooking ingredients. My question is: Can I sift liquids? Let’s say I make some homemade orange juice and want to take the pulp out of it. Do I sift my juice? If I don’t, what do I do to it? Help me! : )

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Is the dialect expression “He was sat ...” in place of “He was sitting ...”, which is quite common in the UK, also found in US English? When I first arrived in England I was astonished to hear a teacher tell his class to “stay sat” when they had done whatever it was they were doing. Now it is like an epidemic, heard on the radio and television too, used by people speaking otherwise standard English. US dialect is very rich and diverting, but I wonder if this one features?

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I am hoping you can help me settle a debate at work. One colleague suggests that using the term ‘literally’ in spoken conversation is incorrect, and that you should use something more appropriate, such as ‘actually’.

I would argue that if I were to mention that I had just bumped into John at the lift, this would typically mean that I had met him at the lift. However, if I were to say that I had literally just bumped into John at the lift, it would imply that I had in actual fact bumped into him.

I would also argue that when speaking with someone if I wanted to explicitly state a fact, for example, ‘literally, all the houses on my road have a red door’, I would use the term ‘literally’ to mean that every door, without exception, was red.

Please could you help settle this debate?

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Is it proper to use the word ‘Floorings’? (Plan to use it as a website name since ‘flooring’ is a noun)

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Is “advocate for” redundant? For example, does one advocate human rights, or advocate for them?

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Yet another antipodean oddity?

Found these examples of an unusual use of “trespassed” in a New Zealand newspaper:-

“It is up to the landowner to have them trespassed,”

“The next day she received a letter from her bosses telling her she had been trespassed and not to return.”

“....had been banned from rugby in the Bay of Plenty for five years and had been trespassed by the rugby club. ”

“The notice asked the dozens of residents to cease camping in the area by 8pm tonight, or be trespassed from the area in the “wider interest of the community”.

“Homeless Hamiltonians are expecting to be trespassed when the Rugby World Cup starts - but the evicted men say they will still give a warm welcome to tourists. ”

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What is the best euphemism for shithouse and/or urinal? I always feel that words like lavatory, toilet, privy, or rest room, don’t quite hack it. Perhaps “the head” or heads may be about the best. No prizes for the winner.

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Latest Comments

As of

  • Piper
  • January 22, 2017, 7:17am

Can we say: I'll send the minutes of the meeting as of 5 pm?

First annual vs. second annual

  • Burt
  • January 19, 2017, 11:51pm

If I am correct and an annual event requires 2 years prior to an event for it to be considered an annual event. Then isn't the term "second annual" incorrect as well? Actually it should be referred to as consecutive meaning second? Looking forward to feedback!

I disagree with Dyske's answer.
In the first example, you are saying something that you know is not true.
In the second example, that is a subjective opinion. They can truly believe they have the best pizza, just like you hear people say they have the greatest wife or kids. It's a subjective opinion that they may truly believe in.
In the third example, that would be a lie because once again you are saying something that is not true even though it's hyperbole.
The way I under the definition of "lie" is that it wouldn't be a lie if I say something I BELIEVE to be true, but is factually wrong. If the police ask me to describe a suspect from memory I could truly believe I'm giving the correct description from memory and be factually wrong, but wasn't my INTENT to deceive the police.

Salutations in letters

In email to someone familiar, I open with "Hi" and sign off with "Cheers" or "Slàinte mhath". Otherwise I use "Good day" and "Regards".
In letters it's normally "Dear ......" and "Yours sincerely".
I agree that "Yours truly" and "Yours faithfully" now seem to be considered passé.

How about, "The rent has doubled.", or "The rent is now twice what it was."
Both "two times higher" and "two times as high" sound like phrases used by primary school kids.

Trust me, when you get to my age, mid 60s, you will start complaining when you hear words spoken which you have grown up with all your life, being given totally different meanings and you are supposed to calmly accept these new meanings without having a clue why they have been changed. If someone comes up to me and says hey as a greeting, then for me I am waiting for them to finish. Even when I just hear it in plays or films, it makes me feel very uncomfortable. I'm not writing here to say it's right or wrong just to make folk understand that it can be very unsettling for some of us.

The team has access to multiple sources

On Tomorrow

  • JBS
  • January 16, 2017, 2:22pm

This is an old world English term sometimes trapped in areas of Appalachia, like many other old German, Scottish, Irish and English phrases (or variations thereof). It's commonly used among religious African American folks in Georgia and Alabama from my experience. The reason so many comments have referenced NE Georgia, Kentucky, and North Carolina etc.. is the Appalachian connection.

An extension of solecism?

Actress instead of Actor

I have long found referring to both male and female thespians as "actors" extremely distasteful, as in PC gone amok. When I waited tables, I had no problem with the term "waitress." Then again, I have no problem with the term "comedienne" for a female comedian. The stewardess/steward thing which is now deemed offensive seems patently absurd to me, but well, "flight attendant" it is! However, reading all the comments with historic connotations does help me make a bit more sense of it all. Personally, I have no problem with the masculine and feminine forms of words/professions, and in fact I do buck against changing all of that, but appreciate the perspectives offered. I totally get that a female MD is not called a doctoress in English, but she would be called "la doctora" in Spanish, and a male "el doctor."