April 7, 2014  •  jayles

“it’s the put-er-on-er-er”

When I was brought up in England we used to say things like “it’s the put-er-on-er-er” for the brush used to put the polish on, and the “taker-off-er-er”. Or later, the “mover-out-er-er” for the spouse who must move out.  Is this “real” English? Why don’t we use it in writing? Why are there two “er” at the end? Is there any description of this in any grammar? How widespread is this construction?

April 7, 2014  •  Hairy Scot

Mentee?

I should probably count myself fortunate that I almost reached my allotted three score and ten without having come across this dreadful word. But alas my belief that a mentor has a protégé has now been cruelly shattered.

March 31, 2014  •  jayles

Which sound “normal” to you?

A) Must we have fish for dinner again? B) Shall we have to have fish for dinner again? C) Will we have to have fish for dinner again? D) Do we have to have fish for dinner again? Accepting that (D) is by far the commonest utterance and would express annoyance or lament. roughly the same as “I wish we weren’t having fish again”, my concern is with the other options, particularly (B) which looks “grammatical” but just sounds odd to me. (A) is less common today but seems to go back a long way whereas “have to” is relatively modern, so which sound “normal” to you?

March 17, 2014  •  Hairy Scot

Pronunciation Etiquette—Hypothetical Question

Two scenarios: You are an antipodean cricket commentator and during a broadcast you realise that your Indian co-commentator is pronouncing some words/names differently from you. You are at a social gathering and notice that everyone else pronounces words/names differently from you. The words/names in question could be for or example: Tendulkar with a soft ‘oo’ sound as opposed to your hard ‘u’ (as in dull).Nepal with “paul” as opposed to your ‘pal’.Debut as ‘dehbyew’ as opposed to your ‘dayboo’. In each situation how do you react?

March 14, 2014  •  maltasr

“fraction of...”: singular or plural?

Recently seen on a standardized assessment for elementary students: “Which fraction of the fruit are apples?” Shouldn’t it read: “Which fraction of the fruit is apples?” Doesn’t the subject verb-agreement rule dictate “is” apples since fraction (singular) is the question’s subject?

March 11, 2014  •  Hairy Scot

“admits to”

I have noticed recently that the phrase “admits to” keeps popping up in contexts where the “to” is obviously redundant. “He admits to the offence”  “He admitted to the charge” Is this a new fad or has it been going on for some time?

March 9, 2014  •  Dyske

What does “Curb your dog” mean?

When you Google “What does curb your dog mean?”, you find three different answers. Control your dog. Pick up dog poop. Take the dog to the curb to pee or poo. I always understood it to mean #2, so even when I saw a sign that said “Curb your dog,” I would let my dog poo there but I picked it up afterward. I figured the person who put the sign there would be satisfied with that. But if #3 is what is meant by the sign, s/he would not be happy. What is confusing is the word “curb” itself. It can mean “control” or “edge of street” which are two completely different definitions, and I would assume that they came from completely unrelated etymological roots. The expression is so vague and confusing that it is ineffective. The only one that actually makes sense is #1 as “curb” means to control. #2 doesn’t really make sense. The word “curb” has no definition that means to pick up after something, although it can indirectly imply cleaning up after the misbehavior of your own dog. (i.e., Since dogs cannot control themselves, you need to control the aftermath for them.) It’s too vague. You should just say, “Pick up after your dog.” #3 is problematic for two reasons. Firstly, “curb” in this context should be used as a noun. I seriously doubt that “take your dog to the curb” was what was meant when the signs first started appearing in public. If you are the first person ever to create this sign, and if you meant to say, “take your dog to the curb”, then you would not write “Curb your dog.” You could not expect other people to understand what you meant by that, as there was no such use of the word “curb” in a verb form. You would have written: “Take your dog to the curb.” My second problem with #3 is that it implies it’s fine to leave the poo as long as you take the dog to the curb. My theory is that “Curb your dog” originally had only one definition: “Control your dog.” And, the sign originally was introduced because many dogs were not kept on leash, and would cause trouble, like attacking kids, starting a fight with other dogs, barking uncontrollably, and running into the traffic. Ideally, they wanted to say, “Keep your dog on leash”, but at the time, this probably felt too extreme, so they just wanted to ask dog owners to responsibly control their dogs’ behavior. Then, in big cities like New York, some people started interpreting the word “curb” to mean the edge of the street/sidewalk, although it’s a bit of a stretch, given that “curb” in this case should not be used as a verb. This is my theory of how the expression was originally introduced and evolved to include all three definitions. What do you think?

February 25, 2014  •  thisbe

Pronouncing “str” like “shtr” as in “shtrong” “shtrange”

Can you please comment on a trend that I have noticed recently. More and more people seem to be pronouncing words that contain the letters “str” as if they were written “shtr”. Strong sounds like shtrong, strange sounds like shtrange, and so on. I have noticed even my favorite NPR journalists mispronouncing these words. I first noticed this pronunciation in one of Michelle Obama’s early speeches. I’d appreciate any insight that you might have.

February 5, 2014  •  Jasper

A New Correlative Conjunction?

I suppose this more of speculation and bit of a question. I have noticed some quotations of ‘nor’ paired with ‘not’ (typically a comma follows not and whatever it is negating), for example: “Battery D did not stop at the first, nor the second, but halt was made at what was ...” “These bonds did not give their owners the privilege of using them as a basis for bank-note circulation, nor was there any other privilege...” “... meaning of its message so clearly, so simply, and yet so earnestly, and with such a passionate longing that from York Hill there should indeed radiate “Peace and good will towards all men,” that not the stupidest nor the most frivolous girl but was touched to a sense of higher ideals and...” All quotes are provided by dictionary.net in the quotations for ‘nor’. Is it possible that this could become a correlative conjunction paired with ‘not’ or possibly a substitution for ‘neither’ in the “neither-nor” pair? Or maybe, has ‘not’ been a viable substitute for ‘neither’ for years without notice? This idea tenuously excites me.

February 2, 2014  •  Warsaw Will

apostrophe with expressions of distance or time

I imagine everyone uses an apostrophe with expressions of distance or time when the number is one: It’s only an hour’s drive from here. They live a mile’s walk away. A stone’s throw away. It follows that an apostrophe should also be used in the plural version, as stipulated by, amongst others, The Guardian and Economist style guides: It’s three hours’ drive from here. They live two miles’ walk away. I notice the apostrophe is often dropped here, so my question is this - do you think the apostrophe: is always optional? is only necessary in formal writing? is always necessary? or that there is some other grammatical explanation that makes the apostrophe unnecessary?

January 31, 2014  •  octobop

take it on/off and put it on/off

Why, for a task, can we take it on, or put it off But for clothing we take it off and put it on? (background: I am an American living in Hungary, so teaching/correcting English comes up a lot, and many here learn British English, so even I learn new words. People here often mix up the words for “put on” your clothes or “take off” clothes. They’ll say put off your jacket, or take on your shoes, etc. This became an embarrassingly awkward situation yesterday when I had to get an x-ray and ultrasound, and the tech didn’t speak very good English. She told me to undress everything, but then said I could take on my trousers, or put off something, and I really had no idea how “undressed” I had to get. I was thinking of how to explain it, that putting should be away from you, and taking should be towards you... but when it comes to clothing, we use the opposite - put ON and take OFF. Unless we’re taking it OUT of a closet and putting it AWAY. aaahh!!!)

January 25, 2014  •  Warsaw Will

tonne vs ton

I’m all for the metric system, and I’m sure a lot of British schoolchildren would be well pissed off if UKIP’s idea of restoring the imperial system ever came to fruition. But I do find sentences like this, in a item on the BBC website, rather strange and unnatural: Mr Teller says the first question is not “How can we make a tonne of money?” I know that tonne is our unit of measurement now, but does it have to take over our idioms as well, especially as this is probably more of an American idiom anyway (I think we Brits would be more likely to say ‘ton(ne)s of money’)? The following idioms are all listed in British dictionaries with ‘ton’ or ‘tons’: They came down on him like a ton of bricks. That bag of yours weighs a ton! I’ve got tons of work to do. We’ve got tons of food left over from the party. I don’t know why the BBC insist on using tonne in idioms. Perhaps they think young people won’t know what a ton is. I say keep the idiomatic ton, and leave tonne for weights. After all people don’t say they’re off to spend a new penny, do they? (Actually I’m not sure anyone says that anymore anyway!)

January 20, 2014  •  Hairy Scot

Pronunciation of “gill”

I have always believed, probably in common with most Scots, that the pronunciation of “gill” varies depending on whether one is referring to the organ of respiration in fishes and other water-breathing animals ( /ɡɪl/ ), or a measure of liquid (/dʒɪl/ ), or even one of the many other variations of the word. I was therefore somewhat surprised recently when watching an episode of QI to hear the erstwhile Stephen Fry and his guests use /ɡɪl/ for both the fishy organ and the liquid measure..

January 16, 2014  •  trudi woodward

Pronunciation of “often”

As a kid in the ’50s I pronounced the word ‘often’ with the ‘t’ sound until I looked it up and found preferred pronunciation ‘of-en’. Now I always hear it with the ‘t’ pronounced. Did I imagine the change?

December 9, 2013  •  Hairy Scot

“You have two choices”

Just what does “You have two choices” actually mean? Since “You have a choice” indicates that more than one option exists, what is “You have two choices” meant to convey?

November 29, 2013  •  Simonthepedant

pre-order

Why do we nowadays have to pre-book or pre-order items? Surely we always used to book or order them, and they would be delivered when ready.

November 28, 2013  •  Jasper

Modal Remoteness & Tense

To preface, I have been studying conditionals for the last few days because the grammar book that I used barely mentioned it. Now as the title suggests, I have a question about modal remoteness and tense. My question deals with stories, which are typically in the past tense, and when modality occurs which I should use: second (present time remote) or third (past time remote) conditional. I am unsure of which but am leaning towards third conditional. Which would be used?

November 25, 2013  •  Jasper

“a letter that had requested” vs. “a letter that requested”

While doing some homework for literature, I constructed these two sentences and was wondering if they can be interpreted differently. The original sentence was the synopsis of “The Fall of the House of Usher” by Poe and started in the present tense, which will also be included because there is a question I have about it. A1) The narrator arrived at the house of his childhood friend, Roderick Usher, who had sent him a letter that had requested his presence. A2) The narrator arrived at the house of his childhood friend, Roderick Usher, who had sent him a letter that requested his presence. What is the difference in meaning between the above sentences? The original sentence was: B) The narrator arrives at the house of his childhood friend, Roderick Usher, who had sent him a letter that requested his presence. In the sentence, the narrator is currently arriving at the house because he received a letter that requested his presence, which had been sent by Roderick Usher. Does that coincide with the above statement? For a timeline: Usher sent the letter—> the letter, through Usher’s words request the narrator’s presence—> the narrator’s arrival.

November 23, 2013  •  Hairy Scot

Selfie

Selfie becomes a word! The selfie – defined as ‘a photograph that one has taken of oneself’ – has taken off to such a degree in 2013 that the term was last week named Word of the Year by the Oxford English Dictionary. Progress indeed!

November 19, 2013  •  providencejim

“Based out of”: Why?

I’ve been seeing and hearing people use “based out of” more and more, when they mean simply “based in.” The phrases at first glance would seem to mean opposite things, as if being “based out of New York” would imply one is not actually in New York. But it’s clear people use them with the same intention.  Case in point: At the U. S. Small Business Administration website a paragraph about Home-Based Businesses includes this: “In fact, more than half of all U.S. businesses are based out of an owner’s home.” I see this phenomenon as yet another example of what is to me a peculiar affection for a term or phrase longer than one with the same meaning that’s been considered standard for a long time. Folks no longer plan, they pre-plan. We take preventative steps, not preventive. But “based out of” seems worse, because to me it’s just bad usage.

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