September 1, 2006  •  siang

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?

August 30, 2006  •  gabe

Lexical Hermaphrodites

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

August 24, 2006  •  davidjones

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.

July 31, 2006  •  lonfriday

I met him drunk

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

July 24, 2006  •  dave2

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).

July 24, 2006  •  ngungo

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?

July 19, 2006  •  marsha

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”.

July 16, 2006  •  Dyske

“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 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 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.

July 4, 2006  •  chacha

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?

June 28, 2006  •  colleen

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).

June 22, 2006  •  flapjack

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.

June 21, 2006  •  bismarck

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)?

June 20, 2006  •  jr

Word for a word with no rhyme?

There are many words in the English language which allegedly have no rhyme. I was wondering if there is a term to denote rhyme-less words (i.e. orange, silver...)?

June 15, 2006  •  isabella

“This is she” vs. “This is her”

A common example is the phrase “This is she.” used to answer a telephone. ‘She’ is the nominative form of the word, so it cannot be used to describe somebody who is the object of a sentence (in this example, ‘this’ would be the subject). The correct way to phrase the example would be “This is her.”, though most people prefer the familiar businesslike shorthand “Speaking.” See From another site, this was the response: “This is she” is grammatically correct. The verb “to be” acts as a linking verb, equating subject and object. So this is she and she is this; “she” and “this” are one and the same, interchangeable, and to be truly interchangeable they must both play the same grammatical role—that of the subject. See I am quite confused! I believe “This is her” is correct because it is understood that “speaking” is simply omitted; thus, we know the speaker is implying “This is her speaking” when she answers “This is her.” After all, we ask to speak to her. When she answers that she’s the one who had answered the call, she’s (obviously) speaking at the time. Therefore, it is her speaking. What is your opinion on the matter?

June 7, 2006  •  duke

Word for unconscious vital process?

Is there a word or phrase that describes a vital process that is necessary to maintain a system or operation but is seldom thought about or considered. For instance, the heart pumps blood but a healthy person doesn’t necessarily think about it as he/she goes about doing things.

June 7, 2006  •  emilykingston

I wonder why?

On page 89 of “Eats, Shoots & Leaves”, Lynne Truss writes, “I wonder why?” Many people put a question mark at the end of this phrase, but to me it doesn’t seem like a question. Isn’t it a statement? “I wonder” is a statement. “Why” is a question in and of itself. In this context, though, the question mark is not making sense to me.

May 24, 2006  •  guyadams

Interpreting “beyond that already extended”

I have run into a slight dispute at work regarding the following statement and the context is travel insurance. “The company will not reimburse for any additional cover beyond that already extended” There then follows a short list of 3 or 4 items such as health insurance, life cover, baggage. 1. I interpreted the statement as follows: The company would not reimburse for cover that was additional in the specific categories already noted. For example increasing the amount of life cover would be such a case where no reimbursement would be paid. However I interpreted the statement as meaning that if the requested reimbursement was for insurance that was not in one of these noted areas i.e. had not already been ‘extended’ then a claim would be valid. In hindsight I feel that I have used the ability to possibly twist the interpretation into a situation where a modest claim for personal liability insurance cover of £70 (which was not a listed item) will be rejected. 2. 2 colleagues thought that the meaning was simple - no reimbursement for ANY additional cover. I can see this point but if that was what was intended why did the statement not just read ‘ The company will not reimburse any additional cover’? Any ideas or somewhere where I can gather some opinions? BTW I am more interested in the principal and ensuring the correct wording for others in future than the actual claim.

May 23, 2006  •  jinmvanb

that vs. who

It seems like it happens more and more. Few [TV] reporters use phrases such as: . . . after talking to the local people that work in that plant, . . .etc., etc. Why the use of the ‘that’ instead of ‘who’ as I was taught for the correct grammar. Another one: . . . it was John that broke the news about the bribery . . . etc., etc. Is it an “exceptional” rules that when reporting (hence, verbal statement as opposed to written) it is acceptable the use of ‘that’?

May 9, 2006  •  brad

There is more than one user

OK, this may seem basic, but I’m writing a manual and I need to know “there is more than one user” or “there are more than one user”, and does that change if the sentence is preceded with the word ‘if’. As in: “If there is more than one user, you may wish to have them log in with a separate session.”

May 4, 2006  •  Dyske


In sentencing of the terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui, Judge Leonie Brinkema said the following: “Mr. Moussaoui, you came here to be a martyr in a great big bang of glory, but to paraphrase the poet T.S. Eliot, instead you will die with a whimper.” Is this an appropriate use of the word “paraphrase”? I understood “paraphrase” as using different words to elaborate or simplify the original statement. In the above usage, she is using Eliot’s exact words.

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