June 14, 2014  •  Dyske

Use my brain or brains?

Googling for “use my brain” (singular) returns 16 million results whereas “use my brains” (plural) returns 11 million. “Rack my brain” returns 792,000 results, and “rack my brains”, 312,000. Why do we even consider using “brains” (plural)? What are we trying to say by adding the “s”? Is there any difference in connotations?

June 4, 2014  •  jayles the unwoven

When is “of course” impolite?

a) “Could I borrow your pen please?”  “Of course.” b) Teacher: “Did you do your homework?”  Student: “Of course.”  c)  Interviewee: “May I sit down?”   Interviewer (thinking: what a twit!): “Of course.” d) Police: “Do you have ID, and license?” Driver: “Of course, officer. Good of you to ask”.  e) Called from the shower: “Is it raining out?” Spouse: “Of course.”  f) In hallway to home-comer: “Is it raining out?” Dripping home-comer: “Of course.” g) At party: “Could I borrow your wife for a quickie?” “Of course.” h) After party: “Are you coming?” Only sober car-owner/driver: “Of course.”  i) Boss: “Can you have that report on my desk by 2300?” “Of course.” Of course it may depend on how it is said, but where would it be dangerously ambiguous? What alternatives are there which are safer?

May 29, 2014  •  Brus

Meaningless Use of “key”

“William and Kate had earlier attended a civic reception hosted by Perth and Kinross provost Liz Grant, where they were gifted an ancient map of Strathearn.”  So we are told by the internet news service in Britain today. What is wrong with ‘they were given as a gift’ ... or ‘they were presented with the gift of ...’? “They were gifted [something]...” sounds to me about as attractive an expression as the noise of fingernails scraped down an old-fashioned blackboard. Am I too sensitive? Should I wear earmuffs and eye pads? Then we are told that ‘they also visited Glasgow’s Emirates Arena, a key venue in this summer’s Commonwealth Games.’  Now, can someone tell me what the difference is between a venue and a key venue? How on earth did this bizarre word ‘key’ come to be bandied about, a meaningless cliche word everywhere? Who thought it up? What is the history of its etymology? What does its inclusion into a sentence add to its meaning? I had a boss once who talked at meetings of his ‘staff’ for weeks in advance about he would give a ‘key speech’ somewhere, and his audience would fall into a state of despond and despair upon hearing of this, for we thought we might have to listen to this ‘key’ speech, or pretend to, when the time came, and we never could understand what was to be ‘key’ about it; neither before nor after its rather hysterical delivery. Can anyone tell me, what does ‘key’ in this context mean? To me it just sounded like a puffed up, self-important and pompous description by a poop of his imaginary high status in the order of things, and I cannot reconcile this notion of what ‘key’ means with its use as a description of a venue in the forthcoming games. Does it mean ‘important’ or ‘main’, for if so, why not say so in the first place? The English language as it is being published in the press is crumbling around us, and this short glance at the news tonight, one item only, is enough to prompt this contribution to your pages.

May 27, 2014  •  Amos Anon

“up on top” vs. “up top”

My wife (from northern Virginia) uses “up top” where I would use “up on top”. For example, where I (from Wyoming) would say that “the box is up on top of the refrigerator”, my wife leaves out the word “on”, and she would say that it is “up top of the refrigerator”. She (and her family) are the only people I know who do this, and this leads me to believe that it is a regionalism. Is it?

May 26, 2014  •  Canadaneil

“Between you and I...”

Why do some people, especially pseudo eloquent corporate types, insist on substituting “I” for “me” under the misplaced guise of speaking formal English: “Between you and I, the meeting was substandard”, “Thanks for taking Julie and I for dinner”. I know there’s not much to discuss here. It’s simply wrong but it represents a deeper misunderstanding of the use of nouns/pronouns. Personally I tolerate the incorrect use of “me” as the subject to a much greater extent (”me and Geoff went to the beach “) because although grammatically incorrect, it is acceptable to many in colloquial English. The use of “I” as the object is neither grammatically correct nor colloquial or formal. It is in a sense a clumsy grammatical over compensation. Besides people who make this error usually (but not always) over rate their own eloquence.

May 15, 2014  •  Chy Anne Osborn

co- = subordinate vs. co = equals

Many years ago using the prefix co- and co meant two different things. Now they are used interchangeably, but is this correct? I was taught if you used co- you were a subordinate and if you used co you were equals. An example. A co-pilot is subordinate to a pilot, however coauthors means both writers were equal in the endeavor. Once upon a time, a co-chairwas subordinate to the chair. Now co-chair and cochair are used flagrantly to mean the same thing, they are equally sharing the duties of chairperson. What are your thoughts on this?

May 14, 2014  •  Hairy Scot

Are sports commentators and sports show anchors out to change the language?

All of a sudden spectators are not “looking on” but “watching on”. Does that make them onwatchers? They no longer say “welcome to” but “welcome along to”. “Early on” has become “early doors”. Players now “contest for” the ball. They now “update you” with the latest scores. To me all of that is rather more idiotic than idiomatic.       :-)) I’m sure there are many more examples that I have (thankfully) missed.

May 8, 2014  •  Hairy Scot

Using country name as an adjective?

The media in English speaking countries seems to be developing a tendency toward using a country’s name as an adjective. eg:- Syria crisis instead of Syrian crisis France fullback instead of French fullback Another is the anglicising of some country names and nationalities:- Argentina becomes Argentine and Argentinians becomes Argentines. Thoughts?

May 3, 2014  •  Warsaw Will

fewer / less

In Britain the the winners of the Bad Grammar Awards have just been announced, and the prize has gone to Tesco, partly for a label on its toilet paper which said ‘More luxury, less lorries’, so I thought this might be a good time to reflect on the ‘fewer / less’ question. According to the OED, people have been using less for countable nouns since the dawn of English, and it only seems to have become a golden rule after certain grammarians latched onto the observation of one Robert Baker, who in 1770 remarked that ‘No fewer than a hundred seems to me not only more elegant than No less than a hundred, but more strictly proper.’, while admitting that less ‘is most commonly used when speaking of a number’. And it was used like this in at least two influential nineteenth century grammars - ‘less hopes’, ‘less parts or portions’ -  Lindley Murray’s English Grammar, Adapted to the Different Classes of Learners, and ‘No less than five verbs’ - William Cobbett’s A Grammar of the English Language. It obviously annoys a lot of people. One woman wrote on Tesco’s Facebook page that she ‘was unable to purchase’. But I can’t help wondering why. There is absolutely no danger of ambiguity, and many of us use ‘less’ with countables informally. (And for many of us ‘Ten items or less’ sounds much more idiomatic than ‘Ten items or fewer’). Does this rule really have any functional basis, (we don’t need any distinctions for ‘more’ - more luxury, more lorries) or is it simply a rule for the sake of having a rule and just another excuse for finding fault with others?

April 27, 2014  •  Hairy Scot

Alternate Prepositions?

More and more lately I’ve been hearing and seeing a change in the prepositions used in common phrases. I’ve already commented on PITE about the use of “deal to” instead of “deal with” in NZ, and of course we have the age old debate about “different from/to”. Recently I noticed some others creeping in:- “what do you make to....” instead of “what do you make make of .....” “I have no intention on.......” instead of “I have no intention of......”. I’m sure there are others. While there may be nothing grammatically wrong in this, it does sound a little strange and raises the question of why and how such usage arises. Does it stem from a desire to be different just for the sake of being different? Is it down to some kind of narcissism?   . when saying “what reading

April 13, 2014  •  Warsaw Will

Natural as an adverb

In his entry on ‘try and do’, Fowler calls it “an idiom that should not be discountenanced, but used when it comes natural”. What interested me was his use of ‘natural’ as an adverb. Oxford Online gives the example ‘keep walking—just act natural’, which sounds OK to me, if idiomatic. There are examples from Dickens and Walter Scott of ‘comes natural’  in dialogues, where ‘natural’ is being used as an adverb, but Fowler’s use here sounds strange to me. Any thoughts?

April 7, 2014  •  Hairy Scot

Have diphthongs gone for good?

Will words like fæces, archæologist, fœtus disappear from our language or should they be preserved?

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.

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