June 10, 2012  •  Hairy Scot

Use of “their” as a genderless singular?

We often hear sentences like:- “Your teen is more at risk while on their restricted licence” where “their” appears as a means of combining “his” and “her”. Although there may be nothing wrong in this, it does sound a bit strange.

June 5, 2012  •  Belinda Mellor

Terms of endearment - would it be correct/incorrect to use a capital letter?

For example, ‘Hello, dear, how are you?’ or ‘Hello, Dear, how are you?’ (Darling, Sweetheart, etc.) Is either absolutely correct/incorrect. I have tended to favour the capitalised form (though not if using the term ‘my dear’, ‘my love’, or whatever) until now but it has recently been questioned and I cannot fully justify my usage. Thank you all, in anticipation.

June 4, 2012  •  Make Your English Work

in other words

It seems to be common for writers to use “in other words” in their writing, which seems to be mostly done as a rhetorical technique. I can see no reason to use this phrase in writing, except perhaps in the case of explaining complex technical information or visual content to a general audience. This is a pet peeve of mine but others seem to have no problem with it. I feel that if something can be said more effectively in other words, those words should be used instead of the less effective ones. Your thoughts on the matter?

May 31, 2012  •  Inovatia

“Live local.” Is it a complete sentence?

Is the following a complete sentence? Live local.

May 21, 2012  •  lycen

Adverbial scope of ‘tomorrow’

For the following sentence; I suppose the adverbial scope of ‘tomorrow’ only covers the verb ‘work’ ie. I have to (work tomorrow). Where ‘have to’ refers to present obligation. What about this: Tomorrow I have to work. Here it ‘tomorrow’ is emphatic and ‘have to work’ seems to be within its adverbial scope. Thus ‘have to’ here appears to mean a future obligation - of tomorrow. I think there’s a difference between both sentences. Any opinions?

May 12, 2012  •  Hairy Scot

“As per ....”?

I have noticed that here in NZ a lot of people use the phrases “as per usual” and “as per normal” in everyday speech. In the UK I only ever heard these phrases used as a form of sarcastic emphasis. I am sure there are a number of “as per ..” phrases in which the “per” does not seem redundant, such as “as per instructions”, but even that seems cumbersome when copmared with “as instructed”.

May 10, 2012  •  Hairy Scot

Difference between acronyms and initials?

I have always believed that an acronym had to be a pronouncable word, like RADAR or LASER, not just a set of initials like IBM or CIA, but I see more and more references that suggest that this is not a generally held belief. Even the OED seems confused:- 1. A group of initial letters used as an abbreviation for a name or expression, each letter or part being pronounced separately; an initialism (such as ATM, TLS). 2. A word formed from the initial letters of other words or (occas.) from the initial parts of syllables taken from other words, the whole being pronounced as a single word (such as NATO, RADA). Although Chambers states: acronym (noun) a word made from the first letters or syllables of other words, and usually pronounced as a word in its own right, eg NATO. Compare abbreviation, contraction, initialism. Let the games begin! :-)

April 30, 2012  •  Dyske

“hack” in “hackathon”

The word “hack” has two distinct definitions. One means “to cut or sever with repeated irregular or unskillful blows.” This must be the origin of the word “hack” as used in the world of computers, i.e., to “hack into” a computer. You keep trying different tactics and passwords until you succeed. But the word “hack” also means to cope with something, to make do with what you have and forget about the details, even if it’s not the proper way to do it, as in a “hack job”. This is a very different definition from the first but the two are often used interchangeably in a confusing way. “Hackathon” for instance does not mean what many people assume it does. It’s not an event where a bunch of computer hackers try to hack into a system. The term “codefest” better describes what “hackathon” really is, where a bunch of computer programmers get together and collaborate on software applications. They are using the second definition, not the first. I’m wondering which definition came first. And, where did the second definition come from? Did it exist before the days of computers?

April 19, 2012  •  Dyske

It had impacts on...

Is it grammatically correct to say “It had impacts on...”? If the singular form is correct (it had an impact on), I would imagine that the plural form would have to be also correct.

April 18, 2012  •  Hacovo

watch much stuff?

Alright, this has me stumped for some reason. I believe that saying “I don’t watch much stuff.” is incorrect, but I can’t articulate why. At first, I thought the problem was with [action verb] + stuff, but I realize that you can ask someone to please watch your stuff, so that’s not it. And the problem isn’t simply ‘much stuff’ because someone can have too much stuff. In any case, I was hoping for a definitive reason why (or why not, if I am wrong) it is improper to say ‘watch much stuff’.

April 10, 2012  •  Ramon

I’ve no idea

Is it a correct syntax to say: “I’ve no idea” to shortcut “I have no idea”? I see alot of people doing this and I feel that it is wrong.

March 11, 2012  •  Hairy Scot

-age words

New Age Words? Just how far will the practice of adding “age” to existing words be taken. To date we have:- signage being used instead of signs, sewerage being used instead of sewage, reportage being used instead of reporting. I am sure there are many other examples of this particular fad. The media, of course, have adopted the fad with enthusiasm.

March 6, 2012  •  Hairy Scot

How to use floccinaucinihilipilification

I recently stumbled across the word “floccinaucinihilipilification” and have been struggling to find ways of using it in polite conversation. :-) Any suggestions?

March 6, 2012  •  Jay Fernandez


Is “tailorable” a proper word? The context of the word is intended to convey that a document is able to be customized, or tailorable. Tailorable sounds like a reasonable use of “tailor”, especially in the (DoD) Infortmation Technology (IT) industry.

March 1, 2012  •  Artis Roenspies

of a

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.

February 27, 2012  •  Dyske

Collins Dictionaries

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.

February 22, 2012  •  ppp


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.

February 16, 2012  •  Sophie Pronovost


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! : )

February 8, 2012  •  Brus

He was sat

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?

February 8, 2012  •  Aadam

“Literally” in spoken conversation

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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