Submitted by cameron  •  October 27, 2006

impression vs. impersonation

Impression or impersonation? I do not understand how “impression” has come to mean “imitation” as in “This is my impression of Marlon Brando.” “Impersonation” seems to be the better choice in this situation, but it seems that these two words are used interchangeably. I understand how “impression” can refer to the process of duplication in situations like taking an impression of one’s credit card, but I wonder if “impression” is misused as substitute for “impersonation” in other cases. Any thoughts?

Submitted by bob2  •  October 3, 2006

Retail Therapy

Does anyone know who first used the expression “retail therapy”. How would one go about finding the first time this expression was published?

Submitted by lawrence  •  September 22, 2006

Neologisms, altered or lost meanings, and lexical monsters

The inventiveness of English-speakers can be wonderful. The other day I discovered “advismentor,” a word that seems to me to be witty and useful. We know at once what it means, and it extends the words “advisor/adviser” and “mentor” a bit, in (what I consider) a charming way. Let us adopt it forthwith.

But...the purists, pedants and fussy traditionalists have some valid points, IMHO. Inventions and changes can be stupid, unimaginative and ignorant. There are neologisms -- and new meanings and uses for old words -- that contribute nothing but lexical pollution.

Take, for example, a pet peeve of mine: the use of “parameter” to mean limit or setting. “Parameter” does not mean that; look it up, and see whether you can understand its real meaning. I can’t, so I don’t use the word. Many academics love junk words like this -- they consider them shibboleths that proclaim erudition and intellect. Hmpf! Congress should outlaw the abuse of “parameter,” even among computer enthusiasts.

Others: first we had “contact,” and then “to contact.” Not good. Then we had monstrosities like “to channelize,” “to compartmentalize,” and other -izes, which are all obvious rubbish. “Enormity” lost its trenchant meaning and became a silly, needless synonym for “huge size.” The hideous trend continued with “to critique,” a stinker if ever there was one.

The British, stupidly ignoring Fowler/Burchfield, decided to write “all right” as “alright,” a zany error that seems somehow to go well with their penchant for those hilarious unattached participles. I don’t know when people started using “if” to mean “whether,” a nasty bit of illogic and confusion that seems to have escaped English instructors the world over. Now (gag!) we have “to text,” another tellingly ignorant error.

Like the intolerable verbal tics “you know,” “like,” and “I mean,” these lexical monstrosities are expressions considerate people avoid. After all, one does not join friends for lunch, and then pick one’s nose after finishing the soup, now does one?

Change -- the new -- is not always bad. That does not mean the bad is ever anything but bad, period. Usage born of sheer ignorance does not have my respect, though I do not doubt that over generations, many egregious alterations of English managed to shed the stigma of illegitimacy. Heavy sigh.....

Submitted by dima  •  September 20, 2006

Amount of people

This is one that a good portion of the population is guilty of. I hear plenty of people use “amount” while referring to discrete objects, such as cars or people. (Yes, I just called people objects.)

I don’t remember actually learning this rule, but I have always used “amount” while referring to things that do not easily separate into countable parts, such as water, sand, courage, experience, etc. It seems to me that “number of people” (or some other phrase, depending on context) should be used instead.

I understand that there are cases where this can get confusing (”amount of time” but “number of minutes”), but I think it’s never okay to use “amount” with something that is thought of as a collection of separate objects. Am I crazy? Does this make anyone else cringe? I don’t think I made this rule up, but I will concede that it’s a possibility.

Submitted by janmorgan  •  September 17, 2006

First annual vs. second annual

If the initial year an event is held it is called the inaugural, what is it called the next year? First annual or second annual? And why?

Submitted by Dyske  •  September 13, 2006

Feeling concern

Several people I know felt that this use of “concern” was correct: “She felt concern, but not enough to sacrifice...” I felt that it should be “concerned”. Two of them are professional writers, so I can’t argue much, but if “concern” is also correct, what is its function? Noun or adjective? If it’s a noun, shouldn’t it be “a concern”? If it’s an adjective, shouldn’t it be “concerned”? In dictionaries, “concern” is either a noun or a verb, not an adjective.

Oddly enough, the same people felt that “She felt scare” was clearly wrong. If “scare” is wrong and “scared” is correct, then shouldn’t the same hold true for “concern” and “concerned”?

On the web, I do see many people using “feel concern” although it is slightly less common than “feel concerned”.

Submitted by Dyske  •  September 13, 2006

Quarters

Why is the word “quarters”, to mean a place of residence, plural? When we say, “I’ll show you to your quarters,” we mean a room. So, why don’t we simply say, “I’ll show you to your quarter,” without the ‘s’?

There are some nouns that take a plural form but they are not actually plural, like “means”, when we say, “a means to an end”. However, I do not think this is the case with “quarters”. Otherwise, we would say, “a quarters”. (I did find a few instances of this on the web.)

How did the word, which means one fourth of something, come to be used as a place of residence in the first place? My wife suggested that it came perhaps from quarters (corner sections or rooms) of a castle, but if this were the case, each room would be a quarter, and there would be no need for the plural ‘s’.

Submitted by horia  •  September 11, 2006

optimiSe or optimiZe ?

I have found both terminations in verbs like optimiz(s)e, prioritiz(s)e, criticis(z)e. Which (or when, or where) is the academically correct form ?

Submitted by siang  •  September 1, 2006

Hyphens conundrum

1. The much talked about question; or The much-talked-about question. If hyphenation is not required, would hyphenation make it wrong, and vice-versa.

Though I’d definitely hyphenate the following: “The much-talked-about-but-never-dealt-with question”. No?

2. I like groceries shopping; or I like groceries-shopping. Same for things like coat(-)checking, floor(-)scrubbing, etc.

How about: The groceries-shopping tedium; coat-checking etiquette; etc. Would it be okay if you don’t hyphenate them?

3. Behaviour is context dependent; or Behaviour is context-dependent. The page is content heavy; or The page is content-heavy.

Likewise, if hyphenation is required, would the lack of hyphenation make it wrong, and vice-versa.

4. The end of school vacation; or The end-of-school vacation. A not so surprising accident; or A not-so-surprising accident.

Again, the same question applies. Especially for the first case, since not hyphenating it would possibly change its meaning: The end of *the* school vacation vs. The vacation that happens at the end of school. Thus, can anyone, without hyphenating it, argue that they mean the latter?

Submitted by gabe  •  August 30, 2006

Lexical Hermaphrodites

In linguistics, is there a term that refers to words (like “format”) that can function as either verb or noun?

Submitted by davidjones  •  August 24, 2006

Quoting text within a quotation

I’m curious about the correct way to punctuate something like the following: David found a note that only had a few words written on it. “I’m too tired to walk.”

Is there a correct way to do this without quotation marks. I’ve seen hyphens used in some instances but that seems incorrect.

Submitted by lonfriday  •  July 31, 2006

I met him drunk

In the sentence, “I met him drunk,” couldn’t the adjective apply to either party, the “he” or the “I”?

Submitted by dave2  •  July 24, 2006

as best he can

On the matter of “as best he can”, hasn’t that been misused consistently by newscasters who toss to a reporter to give us the story “as best he can”, when they really mean “as well as he can”.

To me, “as best he can” implies that he can do it best, better than anyone else, in other words, “as he can, best of all”.

It seems to me that they really intend to suggest that the reorter will do the best they can (judging from the context of their introduction, which often implies that the story is still unfolding and not yet completely understood).

Submitted by ngungo  •  July 24, 2006

Parentheses vs. Square Brackets

From Jim Van:

“If the Recovery (read it Money) is in the millions [of dollars], even 4 decimal places would make a SIGNIFICANT figures.”

Question: What difference in use between parenthesis and square brackets?

Submitted by marsha  •  July 19, 2006

Writing out percentages correctly

I work in the legal field and it is necessary to write out percentages. I need help. Is this the correct way? For 4.975% - would it be written “Four and Nine Hundred Seventy-Five Thousands percent”.

Submitted by Dyske  •  July 16, 2006

“The Official Dictionary of Unofficial English”

For some unknown reason, I’ve always aspired to coining a word to be used by millions. That dream came true when the term “muffin-top” was picked up by Daily News, and consequently by William Safire in New York Times where he even mentioned my name. Since then, several people came out and claimed that they invented that term, but none of them have the proof that I have, which is my entry to pseudodictionary.com dated May 2003.

The Internet has changed the way language spreads and evolves. It also changed the way we keep track of that evolution. A new book by Grant Barret entitled, “The Official Dictionary of Unofficial English” is a great example of that. By using the technologies available on the Internet, he devised a way to record new words and word usages. It is a printed version of his site doubletongued.org. By reading the chronological citations for each word, you get a sense of how it spread and evolved. As amusing as some of these words are, studying of this process of evolution goes far beyond mere entertainment. I think it’s a great contribution to the modern lexicology.

Submitted by chacha  •  July 4, 2006

Doing the dishes...

Nouns describing activities don’t normally take an article in English e.g. I go running, I play cards, I hate tennis, etc.

Why then do many domestic activities take the definite article? e.g. I do the dishes, I do the hoovering, I hate doing the housework, etc.

Can somebody explain to me the rules that govern this type of construction? Are there any other examples of this kind of usage outside of the domestic sphere?

Submitted by colleen  •  June 28, 2006

Why “behead” and not “dehead” or “unhead”?

Why is “behead” the term for removing a person’s head rather than “dehead” or “unhead”?

Other words that begin with the “be-” prefix seem to be opposite in meaning to the idea of something being removed or coming off (e.g., become, begin, besmirch, befuddle, bestow, belittle).

Submitted by flapjack  •  June 22, 2006

Adverb or adjective? Or something else?

This question came up a couple days ago at work, and spurred a lively, if puzzled, debate:

In the following sentence, what is the function of the word “black”?

The barista served the coffee black.

“Black” doesn’t seem to be adjectival, modifying “coffee”, because of the position: there’s a semantic difference between “served the coffee black” and “served the black coffee.” But it hardly seems adverbial, describing the manner in which the serving was done.

The same question applies to “painting the wall blue” and other similar constructions.

It seems to me that the adjectives here act like a kind of double accusative, but I thought double accusatives were typically used with verbs like “make.” So I really don’t know what kind of construction it is; I just know that I use it a lot.

Submitted by bismarck  •  June 21, 2006

All negations don’t sound right to me.

I’m accustomed to hearing people make grammatical mistakes, but occassionally I’ll start hearing new and painful trends that are so pervasive that I wonder if someone changed the rules while I was asleep. Case in point: how to negate constructions containing the words “all” or “some”. A few months ago, I was looking at some magazines at the grocery store and saw an ad asserting that “all insurance policies are not the same”. I’ve been hearing that kind of construction from high school kids for some time, but always attributed it to poor language skills. A few minutes later, I went to use the store’s bathroom and saw the following sign on the door: “All unpaid merchandise not allowed in restrooms”. Now those of you who grew up in the America that I grew up in know that prior to the George H.W. Bush administration, such locutions would have read “Not all insurance policies are the same” and “No unpaid merchandise allowed in restrooms”. What has happened here? I now hear this “all...not” construction constantly and I’m not sure what to make of it. When I hear a teacher lament, “All of my 8th-graders didn’t finish their chapter test on time.”, what does she mean to communicate by that? Does she mean to say that NOT ONE of them finished (supported by literal deconstruction)...or that some did and some didn’t (supported by a higher likelihood of being the case)?

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